Ebola Fallout Still Affecting Africans

By Kristen Clark

In Adaya Restaurant, Ibrahima Bah recently sat under a flat-screen TV as it alternated between CNN and France 24’s coverage of the Ebola outbreak. For most New Yorkers, fears of an Ebola outbreak have ebbed noticeably since late last month, after New York’s single confirmed Ebola patient was released from Bellevue Hospital. But in this Guinean and Sierra Leonean eatery in the Bronx, the word “Ebola” still features prominently amid the mix of French, Fula and other West African dialects.Ebola has remained a matter of concern in the schools, workplaces and homes of the city’s more than 70,000 West African residents. For them, the worry over friends and family in the affected regions, whom they can’t readily visit or take care of, is compounded by fears of lingering discrimination due to the outbreak. “My child’s not in school,” said Bah, about his 17-year-old daughter, who was supposed to begin her final year of high school in Guinea on Oct. 4.

Schools have been closed in Guinea since last summer — so Bah’s primary concern was whether he’d need to move his daughter and three nephews whom he also supports financially, to a brand new school in the Ivory Coast if classes hadn’t begun by December. That would mean finding housing for them and paying their tuition at a new private school — a financial strain for Bah, who can’t legally work in this country. School closures are one of many examples of how everyday life in the affected countries has ground to a halt. “Everything is slowed down. People aren’t going out or coming in,” said Abdoulaye Diallo, who owns Adaya Restaurant. Mr. Diallo frequently calls to get updates from his family members, the vast majority of whom still live in Guinea. “People don’t go close to each other. They don’t go to busy places, or to the markets.” The World Bank projects that the medium-term loss to the three core affected countries’ GDPs will be somewhere between $359–$809 million — as restrictions in mobility limit the flow of goods across borders, scared investors pull out of new projects, and farmers in Ebola-stricken regions abandon entire crops. While Diallo says he worries about the financial impact of the economic devastation on his family, he is more concerned with their safety. “When you hear [an Ebola outbreak has] happened, you have in your mind how they’re going to be affected — or if they’re going to survive,” said Diallo. “It’s not about the money.” At a meeting of the African Advisory Council of the Bronx borough president on Dec. 4, African leaders continued to discuss how to help members of their communities — both here and abroad — who are feeling the impact of the disease. Said Sheikh Tunis from Sierra Leone: “Please, let’s tell Americans what Ebola is — how it’s affecting us.” The AAC has been attempting to centralize Ebola fundraising and awareness efforts across its many constituent ethnic organizations in recent weeks to maximize their impact. “All my family is in Guinea right now,” said Moussa Kourouma, president of the Mandingo Association. “Believe me, some places in

Guinea don’t even know how to get help from the government.”
Kourouma was concerned that critical medical supplies donated from the U.S. weren’t making it out to the villages where they’re needed most.
At the meeting, a lawyer with the African Services Committee, Jessica Greenberg, noted one positive development: The U.S. government will offer Temporary Protected Status to people from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia who can prove that they have been here since Nov. 20 and don’t have a record of any serious crime. TPS confers temporary protection from deportation and a work permit. Immigration relief programs recently announced by President Obama were also on the agenda. For many at the meeting, the prospect of a more stable, albeit temporary, immigration status, while welcome, was not enough to calm their concerns about discrimination they may suffer here on account of Ebola-linked stigmatization.
Ambroise Ngande, social chair of the African Advisory Council, spoke about an initiative to educate teachers and children in schools about Ebola, part of an effort to combat the stigmatization of West Africans living here. That issue came to a head in late October, when two boys were beaten and called “Ebola” on the playground of their Bronx middle school, just weeks after moving to the U.S. from Senegal.
Charles Cooper, the AAC’s president, said the boys’ father was, fortunately, an active community member and knew who to reach out to for help. But he added that other parents often don’t feel as empowered.
“The problem is that everyone is afraid to come forward,” said Cooper. “We are a large immigrant population. Most of the kids tell their parents, and the parents say to stay home.” The boys are now at a new school, according to Cooper, and are adjusting well. Cooper said the case has helped draw public attention to the stigmatization felt in the Bronx’s West African enclaves since the outbreak.
Moussa Kourouma, who drives a taxicab, says he’s felt the weight of that prejudice on the job. Recently a passenger threatened to get out, said Kourouma, if he didn’t tell him which country in West Africa he was from and how long he’d been here.
Fatima Diallo, a community leader and an organizer of the 2014 Miss Guinea USA pageant, says that workplace discrimination is not always so overt. Diallo said a close acquaintance of hers, whose name she asked not be revealed for fear of stigmatization, recently showed Diallo a thermometer kit given to her by the nursing home where she’s employed. Her supervisor had instructed her to report her temperature every day before coming into work, and to stay at home if she felt even slightly ill. “She got really upset, but she can’t say anything,” said Diallo. “I think that’s the worst a person can feel.” The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene was actively monitoring 222 people for Ebola symptoms as of Dec. 2 — the majority of whom were travelers recently arrived from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three countries hit hardest by the outbreak.
The Health Department encouraged anyone who traveled to Ebola-affected countries within the last 21 days and who is experiencing Ebola-like symptoms — which include sudden fatigue, vomiting or fever — to come forward for treatment, saying they’d be offered help regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay.
But in the wake of so much media attention focused on suspected patients, Diallo said that several of her West African friends, sick with symptoms unrelated to Ebola, have refused to visit a doctor for fear of being grouped in with possible cases. Diallo and others say they have also canceled travel plans to West Africa, both because of the danger there and the uncertainty of how they’ll be treated upon their return. Diallo is one of many who have a personal connection to the devastation in Guinea. Friends of her relatives, including an entire family with a small baby, were recently killed by the illness. Diallo is now reworking the Miss Guinea USA pageant schedule to include a speaker from the Health Department, and a fundraising drive to send medical supplies to the affected countries.

Source: Voices of New York

Posted by on Dec 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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