COVER STORY

The Ebola Web

Columbians race to stop an epidemic.

by Paul Hond Published Winter 2014-15
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By year's end, the programming on Star Radio is wall-to-wall Ebola: public-service announcements are shouted out. There are pop songs about Ebola, and discussions about the economic, political, social, and cultural effects of the epidemic.

Yinka Akinsulure-Smith wants to do more shows on Star Radio. People in Sierra Leone “are reeling,” she says. “To say the situation is upsetting is a total understatement. What’s particularly disturbing, in addition to all the deaths of the nurses and others, is that we’re losing doctors. That has been really, really upsetting. The feeling is, if doctors are dying, what hope do we have?”

A week before Christmas, Akinsulure-Smith stands in the offices of the African Services Committee on West 127th Street. About twenty people, some dressed in African clothing, sit before her. Minutes earlier, the audience heard committee attorney Kate Webster  ’10LAW discuss the “temporary protected status” designation for Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone that was made law by executive order on November 20. Now, Akinsulure-Smith prepares to lead a conversation on the Ebola-related problems faced by West Africans in New York: stigmatization, bullying, financial strain due to loss of business, and psychological hardship. But first, she has a small request.

“We have people back in our countries — in Sierra Leone, in Liberia, in Guinea — who are dying,” she says. “Who are infected. Who are ill. We have lost so many professionals — nurses, doctors. We’ve lost parents and children. And so what I believe is very important for us to do, to continue the conversation, is to observe a few seconds of silence in their memories.

“Please, rise, and let’s take a few seconds to remember those who are going on as a result of this horrible, horrible circumstance.”

There is a rustle of papers as everyone stands.

Silence. Seconds go by, and the speaker’s voice enters in a soft, clear tone, just above a whisper: “May their souls rest in perfect peace.”

Read more about the Ebola Virus in the related article An Unusual Virus: http://magazine.columbia.edu/features/winter-2014-15/unusual-virus
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