POLITICS
10/23/2014 02:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Americans Are Really Confused About Which African Countries Have Ebola

WASHINGTON -- Africa is really big. It's bigger than not only the United States but all of North America.

Yet judging by the reactions of some Americans, it would seem that Africa were nothing but a small country, and any travel there means you likely will get Ebola.

In reality, only five countries in Africa have had Ebola cases in the current outbreak. All of them -- Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone -- are located in the western part of the continent, and Nigeria and Senegal have since been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization after going six weeks without any new cases.

The United States, meanwhile, is still treating two nurses who contracted Ebola after they treated a Dallas patient with the virus.

Nevertheless, Ebola-free African countries have been hit by ignorance, with tourists canceling safaris to places like Kenya, and academic institutions in the United States postponing visits. Even within the United States, individuals of African descent from places like Rwanda are facing discrimination by people who believe they may carry Ebola.

"The tragedy of Ebola goes far beyond the heartbreaking suffering of the people in hardest-hit West Africa," Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Florida-based Big Five Tours and Expeditions, told The Los Angeles Times. "Behind the scenes, another lesser known level of devastation is taking place. Tourism to Africa’s great wildlife destinations including Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and Botswana is in free-fall, as travelers scheduled to go on safari holidays cancel in droves."

Below are some ways Ebola paranoia is affecting Ebola-free countries. The countries that have had Ebola cases -- even the ones that have been declared Ebola-free in recent days -- are red. The country being referenced is blue.

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ETHIOPIA: Three students who had recently returned from a mission trip to Ethiopia set off Ebola fears at an Oklahoma high school. On Monday, 18 students refused to show up for class after rumors circulated on social media. "Our students were not exposed to Ebola," said the school superintendent Dr. Kent Holbrook. "There was no person that was sick on the trip. There was no person sick [in] Ethiopia while they were there. There was no person on the plane." T.J. Helling, the youth pastor who organized the trip, also lamented that the three students were being ostracized. "They did more in the last ten days then post people do in their lifetime for other people. We need to remember that we're here to encourage them and support them. Not beat them down,” Helling said.
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KENYA: Kenya is one of Africa's tourism hot spots, and it's been suffering from geographic ignorance during the Ebola outbreak. Blake Fleetwood, of Cook Travel in New York, told the Associated Press in September that he has had 14 groups cancel their safaris in Kenya or South Africa. Some of his clients, he said, "figure somebody from Sierra Leone is going to go to Morocco and the infection is going to spread through the continent."

In the United States, the University of New Mexico canceled a trip for 24 students to go to Kenya to work on various health projects. And in West Virginia, an elementary school teacher who went on a mission trip to Kenya with her church will have to stay home for three weeks -- the time during which Ebola symptoms may appear -- and is cleared by several doctors.

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RWANDA: Two students who had moved from Rwanda and were ready for a fresh start at their new school in Maple Shade, New Jersey, are now being kept home due to parents' fears about Ebola. "Anybody from that area should just stay there until all this stuff is resolved. There's nobody affected here let's just keep it that way,” said parent John Povlow, ignoring the fact that New Jersey is actually closer to Texas -- where there have been cases of Ebola -- than Rwanda is to West Africa. The students' enrollment became an issue after the school district notified teachers, and word then leaked out to parents. According to Fox 29, the family has agreed to keep their children home for 21 days.

On Sunday, Rwanda announced that it would be putting travelers coming from the United States and Spain through special screening to test for Ebola. The country has now backtracked on that measure, though.

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SOUTH AFRICA: A North Carolina teacher who recently returned from a mission trip in South Africa is being barred from coming back to work for three weeks because people are afraid she may have Ebola. "We just feel like we have to err on the side of caution," said Sonya Cox, a member of the school board. Another community member said he thought it was "a bad mistake, an unwise choice" that the teacher went on that trip.

South Africa also has a bustling tourism industry, and the World Bank recently concluded that a drop in activity due to Ebola fears could have "significant implications for economic growth."

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UGANDA: School officials in Catoosa County, Georgia, are trying to reassure parents about two students who are returning from a church mission trip in Uganda. Summer Hennessee, a parent with children at the school, said she didn't want them to be "susceptible" to something they might catch while passing through an airport. School officials put out a statement pointing out that Uganda is 3,000 miles from the Ebola hot zone in West Africa.

In Pewaukee, Wisconsin, four families kept their children at home when the school recently hosted a priest and a teacher from their sister campus in Uganda.
"I don't think people know that Uganda is approximately 3,000 miles away from where West Africa and other outbreaks are," said Pewaukee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. JoAnn Sternke.

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ZIMBABWE: The country has already lost about $6 million in tourism revenue as a result of people canceling their trips over Ebola fears, according to Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive officer Karikoga Kaseke. "We have had cancellations (for paid for bookings). People had paid for holidays in Zimbabwe and are demanding their monies back," said Kaseke.

More than 30 foreign buyers also pulled out of a tourism conference last week over Ebola fears.

Sarah Harvard and Diane Jeanty contributed reporting.

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