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Ebola outbreak kills thousands, sparks paranoia

In contrast to previous Ebola outbreaks, the most recent outbreak has affected cities in four West African countries. Because it has caused more than 1,500 deaths as of Aug. 28, the World Health Organization designated it as an public health emergency of international concern. Various aid organizations, such as the Red Cross, have been supporting efforts to counter the outbreak, which could last for at least six more months.

“One of the most important things is educating the public,” said Khadijah Mumtaz, science teacher. “Just by washing your hands or practicing good hygiene, the ebola virus can be easily killed and infections can therefore be prevented.”

Simultaneously, the South Korean government has enacted contingency measures. According to Channel News Asia, quarantine checks at airports have been heightened; visitors are now required to pass through infrared cameras. Those travelling from West Africa will also be required to submit a questionnaire upon their return. The Ministry of Health is considering purchasing an experimental anti-viral drug from Japan.

“It is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens through any possible means, even if the threat has not physically materialized yet,” said Youngjoo Lee  (10), Forensics member. “But I think that individual citizens also need to be vigilant, especially by avoiding travelling to West Africa.”

Local Korean media outlets and blogs have also been covering the issue extensively. Such reports prompted more than 15,000 citizens to sign an online petition demanding that Duksung Women’s University cancel an international conference co-hosted with the United Nations due to the fear that African univesity students could spread the disease. Eventually, public pressure resulted in the invitations for three Nigerian students being rescinded, sparking debate over whether the petition was an overreaction.

“I understand why people were so concerned about a large international conference being held in Korea,” said Justin Han (12), Government and Politics student. “But I am afraid that the fear present in society may make people more xenophobic against Africans, who they will assume to carry the disease.”

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