The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is creating a dreadful humanitarian disaster where the main focus of discussion has been on how to mobilise sufficient levels of international aid efforts needed to control and contain it. The crisis is, however, also giving rise to some very negative responses which can be seen as distorting and hindering the efforts being made to alleviate the suffering. It is in helping to address and counter some of these negative reactions to the crisis that PR can be seen as having a role.
Such a role poses a huge challenge given that the most negative responses to the crisis appear to be deeply rooted in prejudice and mythology which seemingly demonise Africa on the basis that Ebola is regarded as another ‘plague’ emanating from that ‘dark’ continent that has previously released the AIDS epidemic onto the rest of the world. Reports of racism and discrimination against West Africans across the world have emerged where some African children have been turned away from nurseries and schools after protests from other fearful parents. One mother, Shoana Solomon, who says she and her children faced stigma, paranoia and isolation after flying to the US from Liberia (despite being quarantined) has started her own social media campaign ‘I am a Liberian, not a virus’ which has quickly gained momentum and ‘gone viral’ as they say.
Many are now realising that dealing with the Ebola epidemic is not just a matter of sending aid and resources but of also getting messages across that demythologise the disease and give victims the respect and understanding they deserve. It is precisely here as part of this process that PR can help.
It is very likely that over the coming weeks, perhaps years, a variety of organisations and agencies will have to account for their responses to the Ebola epidemic. Perhaps the best means with which to assist these agencies to respond in an ethical way would be by acknowledging the key components of crisis management which involve the following steps:
– Defining the scope of a crisis
– Establishing a unified response, which avoids inconsistent messages to the media
– Creating a central information service
– Acting promptly
– Documenting everything
– Conducting a post crisis review