Purdue’s African students monitor Ebola crisis

(CBS Photo)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — The epicenter of the growing Ebola outbreak is more than 5,000 miles away, but it sure feels mighty close to home for Purdue University student Wanga Kardee.

Kardee was born in Indianapolis, and her parents and siblings also call the United States home. But she has many relatives in the West African country of Liberia, including an aunt, Wvannie Scott-McDonald, the administrator of JFK Medical Center — one of the country’s largest government-run hospitals — in the capital, Monrovia.

“She is making sure our family is safe,” said Kardee, a senior majoring in sociology and public health who communicates with her cousins on Facebook. “There are certain parts of Liberia that have not been rebuilt since the civil war, and they know to avoid those areas.”

Kardee is also the president of Purdue’s African Students’ Association, which in the last few months has been deeply immersed in the Ebola crisis, the Journal & Courier reported. The organization has turned into an hoc support group internally, while trying to spread awareness and advocate for support externally.

The association is asking for donations of medical supplies that will be shipped to Liberia.

Global efforts to stem the Ebola outbreak have focused on Liberia and neighboring countries, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The World Health Organization said Friday that more than 13,500 people have been sickened and nearly 5,000 have died. Nine cases have been diagnosed in the U.S., with one death — that of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who succumbed at a Dallas hospital on Oct. 8.

Other African nations have felt the impact of the epidemic, as Purdue’s ASA members know from firsthand experience.

Martha Sylla of Ivory Coast, and Nofan Ojuba of Nigeria said they were home this summer when their country’s leaders led campaigns to keep infected people out and to educate their citizens about how to keep from being infected.

“There was a lot of awareness and advice,” Sylla said. “We stopped shaking hands at church.”

They said news accounts at home regarding the virus are not that different from those in the United States. They were quick to point out that they typically see a lot of misinformation about the virus on social media.

While at Purdue, ASA members stay in frequent touch with their relatives back home through daily Skype, phone, text or email communication, they said.

“You can’t not be concerned,” said Daniel Odihi, a Nigerian and a senior studying industrial engineering at Purdue. “It’s a global epidemic.”

Fellow Nigerian Faridat Amode, a sophomore biology major, said her brother back home started school one month later than scheduled because administrators wanted to take all precautions to prevent an outbreak at the school.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa with 158 million people, has not reported a new Ebola case since August, according to WHO.

Travel has become more complicated, Odihi said — particularly for people like his father, whose job requires him to travel often.

“If you leave a West African nation, you most likely go with a greater amount of money because you will need it if you are stranded,” said Odihi, who wonders if he will be allowed back into the U.S. if he travels to Nigeria for Christmas break.

Various ASA members said their experience at Purdue since news of the Ebola epidemic went global has remained positive, even as palpable fear has created anxiety and rash behavior across the country.

Kardee, the Liberian-American ASA president, noted that she has not been subjected to rude remarks or felt isolated by her peers on campus. In fact, some reached out to share their concern.

“My friends and a professor asked how my family is doing and what we could be doing to help people in Liberia,” she said.

Other ASA members concurred — if there has been any bad attitude or behavior toward Africans in the United States, they’re not seeing it here.

“I feel like there is not much of a problem at Purdue,” Amode said.

But at least one wondered if that fairly rosy picture would dramatically change if for some unfortunate reason he were to get Ebola. The controversy over the treatment of Duncan in Dallas, which many medical officials deemed was botched by the Dallas hospital, reminded him that utter fear often brings out the uglier side of people.

“I wonder, would Americans treat me the same way if something happened to me?” asked Kwame Dankwah, a freshman studying finance.

 

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