Posted on Monday, 03 November 2014 17:03

Has the Ebola outbreak exposed West Africa's class divide?

By The Africa Report

The deadly impact of the ebola virus, which had killed more than 3,800 people by early october, has weakened the health systems of Guinea, liberia and sierra leone and hit rural areas the hardest.

Yes  Absolutely, the class divide is becoming more apparent as more financially sound people isolate themselves from the rest of society, which has little access to an already inadequate and highly unstructured health sector. The financially sound, already with homes removed from popular areas where the potential risk of Ebola and cholera could be high, can easily avoid any contact with people outside their circles. The church, as it were, has always been a place of convergence for this region's social strata: a place where the elite, middle class, unemployed, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, among others, congregate. It is not just a place of worship. The church provides the infrastructure for social exchange. Being aware of West Africa's sometimes inconspicuous but pronounced social strata and how the recent outbreaks risk weakening one of the rare sources of communication between the various classes, I have embarked on a ministerial programme that seeks to calm people's fears whilst advising members to apply wisdom in their social relationships in the face of the Ebola outbreak. West Africa is not Scandinavia, and a breakdown in this important bridging role played by the church could prove detrimental to countries with weak social structures. We should be careful this glaring separation of classes does not grow, especially in a sub-region with very little support from government in terms of social structures. ● Florence Ofori-Atta, Pastor, Centre International de Solution Chrétienne, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire



No  The Ebola virus doesn't discriminate along gender, race, class, age and other sociocultural lines, but its effects on the economy and the level of control in the five affected countries – Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal – have differed. The epidemic has killed many health workers, including doctors, who would be considered among the elite. The epidemic has been described as a security threat, a threat to the very existence of affected countries and an overall threat to the public health and the management of deadly pandemics. It has highlighted how unprepared the world is to respond to a fast-spreading virus. It has led to the isolation of the worst-hit countries, and to their being stigmatised as 'Ebola countries.' It is evident that Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which could not manage an epidemic of this magnitude, have suffered more than their economically stronger neighbours. Nigeria and Senegal were able to control the epidemic as soon as the first cases were identified. It is therefore imperative that the international community and national governments invest in health infrastructure and building a capable health workforce in the worst-affected countries. ● Penninah Iutung, Africa bureau chief, AIDS Healthcare Foundation

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