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West Africa Turns To Social Media To Help Fight Ebola

#EbolaFacts Goes Viral

West Africa has recently seen an outbreak of the Ebola virus, with a death toll estimated at about 670 and rising. With so much fear and misinformation circling among the population, citizens of affected to countries have turned to social media to gather more information on the virus.

Both facts about the disease itself and data on affected areas are being distributed on Twitter accompanied by the hashtag #EbolaFacts in an effort to slow or halt the spread of the epidemic.

Ebola is transmitted between people through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual, and so one of the cruel ironies of the disease is that it fractures communities and encourages people to isolate themselves at the very time when they most need to come together and pool knowledge in order to combat the outbreak.

Social media provides away for not just local but national and even international populations to stay in contact with one another without risking the further spread of the disease which would come from a physical meeting. The idea originated with a radio station, the Accra, Ghana-based Citi 97.3 FM, when broadcaster Mawuli Tsikata realised that contact range of the station was not enough to get out information about a disease which is rapidly crossing national borders.

The campaign has gained local celebrity backing, with Ghanaian actress Juliet Ibrahim taking to her own social media accounts to encourage people to undertake the necessary preventative measures to help against the virus.

Although Ebola has a fatality rate close to 90%, it can be easily prevented by avoidance of infected individuals and regular hand washing – the latter not always an easy task in a region where clean water is a real scarcity. The natural carrier of the virus is believed to be fruit bats, and residents are warned against eating bush meats such as bats but also monkeys, chimpanzees, and other dead animals. They are also being instructed to avoid touching fruit which has been partially eaten by animals.

With no vaccine or cure available, and countries including Nigeria shutting and quarantining hospitals where the virus has been found, it is these preventative measures which are the population’s best defence. Travel is also being restricted, particularly in and out of Liberia and Sierra Leone, and so crowd-sourced online information remains the best way for individuals to stay up to date.

Ghana has the highest mobile broadband subscription rate in Africa. It is still low compared to developed nations, with 34% of the population have mobile internet, but that number is rapidly rising. In addition, the region is bypassing the spread of home internet access which characterised the growth of such technology in the West: Mauritius is the only country in Africa with a fixed (home) broadband subscription rate of more than 5%. This is, therefore, a region for which social media means mobile social media, and it is the population’s engagement with it which could be saving lives.

Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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West Africa Turns To Social Media To Help Fight Ebola Reviewed by Anonymous on Thursday, July 31, 2014 Rating: 5
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