Liberians In America Help Dispel Ebola Myths Back Home

Play associated audio

Amelia Togba-Addy lives in Atlanta, but Ebola is always on her mind.

Like many Liberian Americans, she has family and friends in West Africa, where Ebola has killed nearly 900 people. In Liberia alone, the World Health Organization has reported almost 500 cases and more than 250 deaths so far.

So when Togba-Addy's aunt called early one morning last week, she panicked.

"The first thing I thought about was, 'Oh! A family member has come down with the virus,' " she says. "So I started crying."

What her aunt said next seemed to confirm her fear. It's your brother, her aunt told her. He's been vomiting blood.

"I said, 'Oh Lord! I'm finished,' " Togba-Addy recalls.

In the end, the problem turned out to be an ulcer — not Ebola. But Togba-Addy says it was enough of a scare that she had to do something to help her fellow Liberians.

It's been difficult to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history, partly because of misunderstanding. This year's outbreak is the first in Liberia, and many locals there are understandably not familiar with the nature of the virus, how it spreads or what treatment to seek.

So international health officials have been activating a phone network that spans continents — enlisting Liberian Americans like Togba-Addy to help clear the confusion by reaching out to their families back home.

Mobile phones are everywhere in Liberia, even in places where electricity and water are scarce, says Craig Manning, a health communications specialist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We can move information through these channels perhaps even more effectively than we can through social mobilization programs in country," he says.

Manning spoke Sunday at the Liberian Association of Metro Atlanta's offices, where Togba-Addy and more than a hundred fellow immigrants gathered to ask questions about Ebola. And there were a lot.

"Ebola is from a monkey. How did the animal get Ebola?" one person asks.

And should people avoid "bush meat" — like monkey and bats? Yes, Manning tells them.

In some small and remote villages, the disease has been overwhelming. And residents don't know what to do with the bodies — keep them at home or put them outside?

"Keeping those dead bodies in the streets — is it more safe?" another man asks. "Or is it more dangerous in terms of the virus?"

It's more dangerous to keep the bodies in public places, Manning tells them.

His overall message that night was clear: Tell your loved ones what Ebola is, what it isn't, how it's spread and how to avoid exposure.

"We're leaving no stone unturned, in the sense of trying to reach out," Manning says.

Copyright 2014 WABE-FM. To see more, visit


A Compelling Plot Gives Way To Farce In Franzen's Purity

The new novel reveals sharp observations and a great, sprawling story. But critic Roxane Gay says the book gets bogged down with absurdly-drawn characters and misfired critiques of modern life.

Huge Fish Farm Planned Near San Diego Aims To Fix Seafood Imbalance

The aquaculture project would be the same size as New York's Central Park and produce 11 million pounds of yellowtail and sea bass each year. But some people see it as an aquatic "factory farm."
WAMU 88.5

Europe's Ongoing Migrant And Refugee Crisis And The Future Of Open Borders

The Austria-Hungary border has become the latest pressure point in Europe's ongoing migrant crisis. An update on the huge influx of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa and the future of open borders within the E.U.

WAMU 88.5

Environmental Outlook: How to Build Smarter Transportation And More Livable Cities

A new report says the traffic in the U.S. is the worst it has been in years. Yet, some urban transportation experts say there's reason to be optimistic. They point to revitalized city centers, emerging technology and the investment in alternative methods of transportation. A conversation about how we get around today, and might get around tomorrow.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.