Last year there was an outbreak of Ebola in the north east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This wasn’t a big story at the time and slipped largely into the steady stream of stories of violence, destruction and disease routinely written about Africa. Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak to be public health emergency of international concern, naturally this drew the attention of yet more 24 hours news clickbait articles.
So far there have been 2,578 cases and 1,737 people have died in what is now the worst outbreak of Ebola since 2014 (WHO 20.7.19). The WHO declaring an international emergency is undoubtedly a good thing; it will draw the attention of government agencies, NGOs and the public the world over, who will be able to give DRC the help it needs to bring this outbreak under control. The north Kivu province of DRC is an unstable area riddled with armed conflict, weak infrastructure and poverty. These are highly mobile populations where the effects of Ebola have been exacerbated by a distrust of medical authorities.
Now, there are a lot of incredible people on the ground in DRC working to fight Ebola, and slowly, international cooperation is bringing much needed resources in. The last severe Ebola outbreak, in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2014 caused terrible loss of life and socio-economic disruption in those countries. It also had a negative effect on tourism throughout Africa. Bookings for safaris were down as much as 70% in some cases, I know, I started in 2014. This was a shame and ridiculous for two reasons. Africa is vast, it is a continent, made up of a dizzyingly wonderful array of nations and cultures. The countries effected in 2014 in West Africa are closer to Europe than East and Southern Africa. To contract Ebola, you must have direct contact with someone who already has it, and hence there were more cases in the UK and USA than in Tanzania (zero) for example.
Tourism is a major economic driver in all safari destinations, when tourists stop coming, people don’t get paid, their children don’t go to school, taxes aren’t collected and wild places are not protected. As visitors and residents of Africa it is our responsibility to promote a positive image and not buy into the traditional narratives about Africa, asking if, we should still go there on our holidays and vacations. Rather, get the facts and get your next safari in the diary.
Medicins Sans Frontières are on the ground in DRC and their website is excellent. Give them a few pennies to help. For up to date and not overly paranoid travel advice for any country in the world visit the UK Foreign Office website.