Ivorians take the threat of Ebola extremely seriously, and according to many predictions there’s a strong chance the country will soon register cases. A look at regional contagion maps shows a number cases in parts of Liberia along the shared border, while the very epicentre of the outbreak between Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia is not far from western Ivory Coast. Just one case would have serious repercussions on the country’s image – as much for the fear factor as anything else.
Of course, already Africans in general are being discriminated against around the world because of Ebola. One Ivorian friend in Dubai was held for more than an hour at the airport just because he’d come from Dakar, Senegal, which has had only one case (a Guinean) who since recovered. Another senior Ivorian couple were travelling on a tour bus in Dubai when they noticed that everyone was sitting as far from them as possible. They wondered what was going on when an Australian on the bus plucked up the courage to ask them: ‘Do you have Ebola?’ Unbelievable.
As one of West Africa’s key economies, the results of one case in Ivory Coast would be severe, not least to goals of double-digit growth. Of course the country now has had plenty of time to prepare – unlike the three principally affected countries, there’s no excuse for being caught on the back foot. Since I visited in April, it’s not been possible to eat bush meat, and now controls are in place at the airport (though I hear VIPs generally get excused the hand washing). Even salutations have changed and prayers at the mosque, so I hear.
Without wanting to be complacent, one would hope that the country is now in a good position to cope. Communication campaigns are underway, emergency procedures practicised, and guidelines issued. Privately, Ivory Coast’s web community have been playing their role to spread the word about the importance of washing hands. The government’s measures probably rank as the most severe in terms of shutting borders and banning flights from affected countries. The examples of Senegal and Nigeria are heartening that when Ebola arrives in more developed African states, things can be controlled. Let’s hope it never arrives.