Till this moment, a lot still remains unknown about the virus which is believed to have emanated from a wet market in Wuhan, China. The virus is not the first of its kind to visit mankind recently but certainly the first to spread across the world so fast.
The Ebola virus had similarly been experienced previously. The virus is indigenous to Africa. The Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The largest outbreak to date occurred in West Africa between March 2014 and June 2016, affecting primarily Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The virus was eventually imported to Nigeria by a Liberian, Patrick Sawyer. Just about 28,000 cases were recorded.
While the African governments together with the World Health Organization combat the virus by nipping it in the bud and making sure it didn’t spread to other parts of the world. Africans especially West Africans were stigmatized outside the shores of Africa.
A study by the University of Cincinnati in 2015 showed similarities between how African immigrants were stigmatized during the Ebola crisis to how the gay community was stigmatized during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Guy-Lucien Whembolua, a University of Cincinnati assistant professor of Africana studies, leads an analysis of national news coverage of the Ebola scare in a poster presentation on 2nd November 2015.
The researchers found that African immigrants experienced stigma similar to communities stigmatized by the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s. “There was strong discrimination against homosexual men during the AIDS epidemic and laying blame on that population for the spread of the virus,” says Whembolua. “Similarly, in the early stages of the Ebola Virus outbreak in West Africa and amid sensationalized reports, we found a fear linked with African immigrants around spreading the disease in the U.S. Some of these populations felt they had to hide their ethnicity in an effort to avoid the stigma.”
As a result, Whembolua says particularly in New York where there’s a high Liberian immigrant population, there was a great deal of shame in being associated with Liberia. “Children were teased in high school, or adults were the butt of jokes at work. People from Nigeria also were stigmatized by the Ebola scare, resulting in stress and hardships for these populations,” says Whembolua.
Similarly, there were reported cases of discrimination and stigmatization against African across other parts of the world during the period.
In April 2020, local and international media became awash with the news of discrimination and stigmatization of Africans in the southern Chinese largest city, Guangzhou. After months of being on lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. On 27th March, Guangzhou was reopened and soon after, there were rumours across Chinese social media and among locals that there was a second wave of the spread of coronavirus which was as a coming from the Black community in the area. In fact, there were rumours that the African community in the area had been locked down after a large number of Covid-19 cases had been found amongst them.
But on 8th April, local authorities dispelled these rumours stating that there was no second wave of infections and the community hadn’t been put on lockdown. Although, they admitted that there were 111 new cases of coronavirus recorded amongst new arrivals to the city, which included five Nigerians. Despite that, the rumours earlier peddled still lingered and had a massive impact on Africans living in Guangzhou, making Africans become targets of suspicion and subjected to forceful eviction from their apartments, arbitrary quarantines and mass coronavirus testing as the country steps up its fight against imported infections. Some were even tested and never got their results.
China said it had largely curbed its COVID-19 outbreak but a recent cluster of cases linked to the Nigerian community in Guangzhou sparked the alleged discrimination by locals and virus prevention officials.
Unlike what was experienced by Africans in foreign lands during the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic, nobody has stigmatized the Chinese now despite that coronavirus has its origin from there. They still enjoyed a harmonious relationship with their hosts across Africa. This wouldn’t have been so if the table had been turned. If the Chinese can be that ruthless while trying to prevent a potential second wave of what originated from there, one can only begin to wonder what would have been the fate of Africans worldwide if the coronavirus had originated from Africa and ravage the whole world like it’s presently doing.
In conclusion, the whole world must come together as one to combat the dreaded coronavirus while preserving and respecting 30 articles of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of everyone.
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