Fear and Stigma in the Age of Ebola

How can we strike a balance between being safe while avoiding policies that promote stigma against those who are sick during epidemics? Outbreaks with emerging infectious diseases tend to elicit intense amount of fear and confusion in our society, which can lead to stigmatization of those with the infection and the people who care for them. Stigma during the Ebola outbreak was pointed towards patients and providers. It was devastating for patients and demoralizing for providers.

And this reaction can actually propagate the outbreak further by keeping people from seeking care or volunteering to help. Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious diseases physician who worked as a front line Ebola worker in Sierra Leone, describes ways in which stigma affected Ebola patients, as well as first responders in the US and in West Africa. Given that emerging pathogens are appearing with greater frequency in our world, Dr. Bhadelia discusses how better communication about scientific uncertainty, media advocacy and sharing stories that humanize the affected patients can help reduce stigma.

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