WASHINGTON, D.C. —Voice of America’s weekly television show Straight Talk Africa was the forum Wednesday for a town hall meeting at VOA’s Washington headquarters on Ebola, hosted by Straight Talk Africa host Shaka Ssali. A live studio audience and viewer participation via social media created a dynamic environment for a wide-ranging discussion focused on the Ebola crisis in western Africa.
Titled Knowledge is Life: Ebola Town Hall, the 90-minute show had four studio guests: Dr. Malonga Miatudila, co-discoverer of the Ebola virus in 1976; Bockari K. Stevens, the ambassador to the United States from Sierra Leone, one of the three West African countries hit hardest by the disease; and two Ebola survivors, both Americans, Dr. Rick Sacra, who has worked for years as a medical missionary in Liberia, and freelance news photographer Ashoka Mukpo, who was on assignment with NBC in West Africa. Another guest, Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Africa, participated via a prerecorded video.
In her remarks, Representative Bass underscored that the Ebola crisis in West Africa is the result of “very weak health infrastructures” in the region and called on her colleagues in Congress to act swiftly to approve President Obama’s request for additional aid to deal with the crisis.
The two American survivors of Ebola spoke about their ordeal as a humbling experience. “I’m very grateful to have survived,” said Dr. Sacra, who attributed his survival to early detection and treatment. He contracted the disease while helping run a Christian medical center in Monrovia, Liberia, and was then flown to the U.S. and treated at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
Mukpo, the news photographer, also was able to get medical care soon after getting sick. He acknowledged feeling “lucky and fortunate” and then spoke of the many Ebola victims in Liberia who are not as fortunate: “For all the journalists, and everybody who was in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea … it just weighed on our hearts so much to see people looking for medical care who needed immediate help and couldn’t get it. It just shocks you. When you look at all the privilege, all the infrastructure that we have in the West to take care of each other and to see people who needed medical care more than anybody else and couldn’t even get a bed to lay in. To me, that feels not OK. We have to do a better job.”
Dr. Malonga, speaking from his long experience in dealing with Ebola, characterized this latest outbreak as “unique but manageable” and emphasized the need for greater cooperation among African countries in the fight against the disease. He also warned that “rumors are good allies to Ebola.”
Ambassador Stevens, in his comments, characterized Ebola as “a wake-up call,” not only for Africa, but for the entire world and appealed to wealthy Americans and Africans for help in caring for the children made orphans by the disease.
In his remarks at the town hall, VOA Director David Ensor said, “The Voice of America will stay on the Ebola story as long as necessary, even if other major media move on to other stories.” VOA so far, he said, has filed more than one thousand stories and produced dozens of special programs on Ebola.
In addition to being broadcast on television, Wednesday’s Straight Talk Africa was simulcast on radio and on the web.