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Decolonizing Ebola Rhetorics Following the 2013–2016 West African Ebola Outbreak

Marouf Hasian, Jr.

Decolonizing Ebola Rhetorics Following the 2013-2016 West African Ebola Outbreak defends the position that, despite the supposed “lessons” that have been learned about the spread of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) after the 2013–2016 West African Ebola outbreak, there remains a need to “decolonize” the rhetorics of Ebola prevention and containment. The author asserts that the failure of governments, aid organizations, and global media to confront the structural and material legacies of colonialism in West Africa will prevent global communities from adequately dealing with sporadic Ebola outbreaks. Central to the book’s argument is that far too many communities in the “global North” are unwilling to spend the hundreds of billions of dollars that are needed for the prevention of endemic and epidemic diseases in the “global South.” Instead of coping with the impoverished legacies of colonialism, organizations like the World Health Organization support the use of small groups of “Ebola hunters” who swoop down during crises and put out EVD outbreaks using emergency health techniques. The author demonstrates how Western-oriented ways of dealing with EVD have made it difficult to convince West African populations—wary of emergency interventions after a long history of colonial medical experimentation in Africa—that those in the West truly care about the prevention of the next Ebola outbreak. Decolonizing Ebola Rhetorics ultimately argues that as long as global journalists and elite public health officials continue to blame bats, bushmeat, or indigenous burial practices for the spread of Ebola, the necessary decolonization of Ebola rhetorics will be forestalled. The author concludes the book by offering critiques of the real lessons that are learned by those who try to securitize or military Ebola containment efforts.

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Chapter 4 Médecins Sans Frontières and the First Interventions During the Global Ebola Crisis, December 2013- May 2014

Médecins Sans Frontières and the First Interventions During the Global Ebola Crisis, December 2013- May 2014



As noted in earlier chapters, worries about the belated interventionism during the 2013–2016 “West African” outbreak preoccupied many administrators, scientists, and journalists who talked about the “pathogenesis” of EVD or the tracking down of “Patient Zero.”1 At the same time, those who were “on the spot” before others were praised for being prescient and for laying their lives on the line, and it would be Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) that would be given much of the credit for sounding the earliest of the outbreak warnings.

This chapter provides a postcolonial critique of the Western mainstream press coverage of MSF’s “discovery” of Patient Zero during what would be called the first “intervention” or “wave” in West Africa. It also explains some of the ideological and material forces that confronted the World Health Organization (WHO) when WHO members heard, on March 23, 2014, about a potential out-of-control “West African” Ebola outbreak. WHO personnel, who worried about repeating the mistakes that they had made during the 2009 Avian flu epidemic, would later be excoriated for not following MSF’s lead.2

While most retrospective reviews of what happened during the time of the first intervention are produced by those who want to focus on “lessons learned” or the “misunderstandings” that contributed to some of the chaos of these first intervention periods, I am much more interested in illustrating the contestation, ←103 | 104→the clash of wills, and the disparate power relationships that existed...

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