Ghanaian Leads Successful Community Forum on Ebola in Harlem, NYC

By Kofi Ayim

An eventful and information-rich forum on Ebola was organized by the West Harlem Development Corporation (WHDC) in partnership with the African Immigrant Task Force and the Office of the President of the Borough of Manhattan, Gale Brewer, on October 30, 2014 at City College, New York. In an introductory speech to a packed-house, Kofi A. Boateng, PhD, Executive Director of WHDC called for public education on a disease that is killing people in West Africa and sending fear everywhere else in the world. He disclosed that as of the event’s date, the World Health Organization had estimated that there were 13,000 confirmed cases of Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The combined population of these countries is about 22 million, slightly higher than that of the State of New York. That would make an infection rate of 6 in 10,000 if one lived in one of the three West African countries. In contrast, the situation in the USA is five cases of infection and 1 death, so far in a population of nearly 320 million. Dr. Boateng concluded: “We have more to fear from being afraid than from the truth of getting infected with Ebola anywhere in Africa and even less so in the United States.

Therefore we need to stop stigmatization and criminalization, educate ourselves about the facts of Ebola, and not give in to fear that breeds baseless hysteria.”
The panel of ten was moderated by Dr. Barbara Wallace of Columbia University’s Teachers College. It included representatives from Doctors without Borders, a senior public health advisor to Liberia’s Ebola response management team, a Columbia University assistant professor of epidemiology, a virologist, and representatives from the health and human rights departments of New York City.
In his presentation, Dr. Eluemuno Blyden, a Sierra Leonean-American virologist who worked in the forest area that borders the three index countries in West Africa, presented a novel theory on the origins of Ebola. He argued that the search for rare metals in the region and also in the Congo, specifically coltan that is used in the manufacture of cell phones, has led to severe deforestation and a disturbance of the biodiversity in the old pristine forests. In this, all humanity shares responsibility for the rise of Ebola that has come from environmental degradation in Africa to satisfy human wants. Ebola is a warning of worse things to come if humanity does not wake up and African countries continue to allow rapacious exploitation in return for a few dollars for a few people. His assertion, if proven, will debunk the oft-repeated claim of the recent outbreak being attributed solely to Africans eating bats and other bush meat.

The public health awareness messages were that: The Ebola virus does not transmit through air. One can get infected only through being in touch with the bodily fluids of others who are sick from Ebola. The incubation period for people who are infected runs from three to 21 days. Infected persons get sicker and their chances of dying increase as they move closer to the end of the incubation period. It is therefore imperative to get to the hospital at the very first sign of symptoms that may look like the flu with headaches, nausea, runny nose, vomiting etc. It is highly recommended that all should take flu shots to at least eliminate the chances of being mistaken for an Ebola infection.

The respondents representing the City of New York disclosed that the City has designated eight hospitals as Ebola treatment centers. People, who need to be seen, tested and treated, should not hesitate to come forward because no one will be denied care on account of financial difficulties and immigration status. People are strongly advised to not violate other people’s rights. Do not hesitate to contact the City’s Commission on Human Rights if you feel violated. If you are a victim of a crime, contact the police.
In a post forum interview Dr. Boateng told this writer that the idea of a forum on Ebola was hatched back in September between him, Dr. Blyden, and Dr. Ashiwel Undieh, a Deputy Provost at City College. In early October he raised a question of “the white elephant in the room-Ebola” at the first meeting of the African Immigrant Task Force hosted by Borough President Brewer who immediately took to the need for action. Dr. Boateng added that the Task Force and the African Federation have plans to develop next steps to get more of the educational message out, and useful resources to help those fighting Ebola in Africa. He took the opportunity to profusely thank the event’s co- sponsors, his and the Borough president’s staff, elected officials, and many others who pitched in to pull this important forum off within three weeks. He admonished Africans in the US to not hesitate to send themselves and their visitors to treatment centers at the first signs of flu-like symptoms including elevated temperatures, and not worry about payment and immigration issues. In addition he strongly urges the African community to modify some of their cultural habits, especially during these challenging times. “Show your love and concern by nodding.

A handshake is not worth dying for”, he emphasized.
The event was opened with the South African anthem Nkosi Sikelei Africa (God bless Africa) by the New York African Chorus Ensemble. The Blackberry Productions Theater followed with a short play that bared the confusion about the origins of Ebola as conspiracy, manufactured virus, genocide, airborne etc. The skit included a tracking of the final days of Thomas Duncan (from Liberia), the first person to die of Ebola in the USA. A group of Hip Hop originators, called Ground Breakers, sent the audience away with a new track, “we don’t want to die.”

For more on the forum, contact Dr. Boateng at kofi.aboat@gmail.com.

 

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Posted by on Nov 16 2014. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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