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The example of Ebola: Media can help to de-stigmatise victims

Media analysis of online articles on the theme of Ebola survivors produced by the newspaper "The Liberian Observer".
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(Vienna, 07 September 2017) During the Ebola epidemic that ravaged West Africa between 2013 and 2016, around 28,000 people contracted the virus and 10,000 survived – more than 1,500 of these in Liberia. Most of the survivors are now facing difficult social, financial and health challenges, are stigmatised and to some extent discriminated against. Media reporting plays an important role in epidemics – it can minimise the infection risk and combat the stigmatisation of those affected. That is the finding of a study conducted by Elisabeth Anne-Sophie Mayrhuber, Thomas Niederkrotenthaler and Ruth Kutalek from MedUni Vienna's Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine.

The latest study takes the form of a media analysis of online articles on the theme of Ebola survivors produced by the newspaper "The Liberian Observer" over a period of around two years.
Says Kutalek: "The newspaper not only reported on the mental and physical consequences of the disease but also the social and financial consequences. At the same time, it also tackled the subject of stigmatisation, clearly illustrating how this manifests itself in everyday life." The background: Because of the high risk of infection, all the possessions of people who contracted Ebola were sprayed with disinfectant and in many cases destroyed – or even burnt. Most of the survivors returning home from the "Ebola Treatment Unit" were left with nothing. They lost their jobs, their homes, and were no longer able to shop in the marketplace.

The analysis of the reports in the "Liberian Observer" showed that the newspaper had taken pains to report the social situation of a Ebola survivors in an objective way – without any scaremongering. "Completely in contrast to some European media," adds Kutalek. At the same time, the subject of stigmatisation and the measures taken to combat it, such as including sufferers in aid activities, was tackled openly – and successfully: "It was clear that it had a de-stigmatising effect within society," say the MedUni researchers.

To sum up the central finding: De-stigmatisation occurs when media openly address the subject of stigmatisation, when those affected are able to have their say rather than just be "reported on" and when there is broad public discussion about the subject."

Service: PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases
"We are survivors and not a virus:" Content analysis of media reporting on Ebola survivors in Liberia. Elisabeth Anne-Sophie Mayrhuber, Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, Ruth Kutalek. August 24, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0005845.