The role of social media in the Ebola virus outbreak

The Ebola virus has been ravaging Africa since February this year. So far it has claimed nearly 2,000 lives, almost half of all reported cases. These statistics make it the largest Ebola virus outbreak ever recorded. The outbreak began in Guinea, and has since spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The virus spreads by contact with infected blood and bodily fluids.

A major challenge in tackling the disease is ensuring proper communication between all involved. Social media has a potential role to play here, as communication technologies can improve early warning systems, outbreak response, and communication between healthcare providers, local and national health authorities, and international health agencies

People have already taken to social media to help educate each other and thus limit the spread of Ebola. For example, Nigerian blogger Japheth Omojuwa has started #FactsOfEbola on Twitter to help spread news and information about the disease. In neighbouring Ghana, the Accra-based radio station Citi 97.3FM has set up another dedicated hashtag, #EbolaFacts, for the same purposes.

However, difficulties still arise due to the lack of access to mobile communications and internet across Africa. Mobile connections in West Africa are still rather diffused, and the most rural areas in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are not online. As the disease continues to spread to remote locations across the countries, those people most at risk also become the ones that are most difficult to reach.

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