How Ebola scare stigmatised African immigrants in US

New York: The deadly Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa also took its toll socially on the African immigrants in the US, shows an analysis of the news coverage of the Ebola scare.

These African immigrants experienced stigma similar to communities stigmatised by the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s, the findings showed.

“There was strong discrimination against homosexual men during the AIDS epidemic and laying blame on that population for the spread of the virus,” said lead researcher Guy-Lucien Whembolua, assistant professor of Africana studies at the University of Cincinnati.

“Similarly, in the early stages of the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa and amid sensationalised reports, we found a fear linked with African immigrants around spreading the disease in the US. Some of these populations felt they had to hide their ethnicity in an effort to avoid the stigma,” Whembolua noted.

Particularly in New York where there is a high Liberian immigrant population, there was a great deal of shame in being associated with Liberia, Whembolua said.

“Children were teased in high school, or adults were the butt of jokes at work. People from Nigeria also were stigmatised by the Ebola scare, resulting in stress and hardships for these populations,” Whembolua pointed out.

The researchers added that understanding this stigma faced by African communities in the US could help improve health promotion programmes targeting immigrants.

They emphasised that the outbreak highlights a need for research on infectious disease that is relatively unknown in the US and the Western world.

The study reviewed reports in mainstream US media related to African immigrants and the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

The study was presented at the 143rd American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting and Expo in Chicago.