The Ebola outbreak in Western Africa continues to make the news as more cases are reported and casualties rise. A common thread in reporting is the difficulty in communicating accurate information to combat the spread of the virus when communities are gripped with fear and misinformation spreads as quickly as the virus itself. While our fears are easily allayed by graphics that remind us how far we are from the epicenter of the outbreak, I would be curious to know if they are even remotely helpful tools on the ground. Here's one graphic from the CDC which is straightforward and to the point, and clearly directed towards those of us far from the source:
And here's one I found on Visually that sums up much of the information I've read from reliable sources like the CDC, WHO, and Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Are these graphics, or ones like them, a tool that is useful to the communities and/or community leaders in the affected areas? I've heard reports in some areas of rumors that the virus is brought by white people and in others that hospitals with the highest infection rates are being deserted out of fear of infection. And in some areas health aid workers are confronted with full-blown denial that Ebola even exists, leaving public education campaigns that address transmission and symptoms suddenly irrelevant - a sobering reminder that assumptions we make from afar about what is commonly accepted as truth are in fact shaped by our culture, our beliefs, and our communities.
All of this reminds me how important it is to have a diversity of viewpoints and experiences represented in the scientific community. People receive information best from the people they already know and trust. As such, aid workers spend tremendous amounts of time and energy becoming a regular and trusted presence in the communities in which they work and it is impossible to underestimate the importance of trusted community leaders in disseminating information in times of crisis. What visual tools would help serve these trusted leaders? Are we doing everything we can to encourage enough diversity in the sciences so that we are able to bridge important cultural gaps and teach effectively in crises like these?
I don't know the answers to these questions, being both far physically and culturally from those who are enmeshed in the Ebola outbreak. But here are some images of local public education posters being used in the current Ebola outbreak, courtesy of the CDC. How do they differ from the ones being circulated here? How can they be more tweaked to speak more effectively to the people who need this information most? Or are they already as effective as they need to be?