The news that a man who recently traveled from Liberia to Dallas has been diagnosed with Ebola, the first diagnosis on American soil, was met with mixed reaction Wednesday in one of the West African countries struggling to contain the deadly disease.
Government officials in the capital Monrovia said they have no knowledge of the man’s identity, and have privately expressed frustration that the United States, citing patient confidentiality laws, has not revealed his name or even his nationality. Liberians, ever sensitive to the stigma of Ebola, repeatedly point out that just because the man departed from the capital’s international airport on Sept. 19, it does not necessarily mean he is, in fact, Liberian.
That frustration is reflected on the country’s lively call-in radio talk show. Callers want to be able to identify the man, and pinpoint his nationality, because they say they want to “clear Liberia’s name.” Liberians feel they have been unfairly identified with the Ebola outbreak, which, many point out, started in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone, even if Liberia now has the majority of cases. Other call-in guests are taking a longer view, expressing hopes that the case, which is already getting around the clock U.S. media attention, may elicit further American support for the Ebola effort in Liberia.
“Now the Americans know Ebola can go there, maybe they will send more doctors to Liberia,” one caller said. Another brought up the case of American-Liberian Patrick Sawyer, who caught Ebola while working in Liberia, and took it to Lagos, Nigeria, on July 20. He died five days later, unleashing a chain of transmission that ultimately infected 20 and killed eight. Nigerian officials are now saying that the outbreak has been contained. Like the Sawyer case, the caller said, this just further “proves to the world that Ebola is real, and a global threat.” The host agreed. “It is good,” he said, that the patient was getting good treatment in Dallas. It was also good, he added, that Americans can now see the reality of Ebola for themselves: “This will raise international attention, this will let Americans know that Ebola is real.”