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Dar es Salaam – The CNN International (DStv 401) anchor Isha Sesay whose parents are from Sierra Leone – the epicentre of the Ebola pandemic devastating West Africa – says she is "an angry black woman" over the media coverage and the world's inadequate response to Ebola.
"I am an angry black woman. I have a very tense relationship with the story because I'm living in the United States but my family is in Sierra Leone. My mother, brother, grandmother – most of my family – are in Sierra Leone right now.”
Isha Sesay was speaking as a panelist member at the Serena Hotel in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in one of the media forum sessions forming part of the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards 2014.
"I'm in a place where America has taken this, in my words 'bizarre' approach to this public health emergency on our continent and the media in the United States has made it all about them and their few cases," said Isha Sesay who spent much of her childhood in Sierra Leone.
"I was at the airport a couple of weeks ago and the driver was picking me up. I was there at the baggage carousel. And he said 'Where are you from?' And I said 'I'm from Sierra Leone.' And he took a step back from me."
"And I thought: 'Wow. How wretched a job have we done as the media that people think that just because I'm from Sierra Leone, that just being in my presence, regardless of whether I was in Sierra Leone or not, that I'm somehow inherently a carrier of Ebola," said Isha Sesay.
A lack of knowledge and empathy over Ebola
"What I'm seeing in the United States is this lack of knowledge. And not just a lack of knowledge, but also a lack of empathy for what we are going through right now on the continent. So I'm in a really difficult space right now,” said Isha Sesay.
“The coverage of Ebola to date – before we moved to the situation where we're now where the focus is so much on America and the fear that the Western hemisphere is going to be taken over by Ebola – the coverage of the continent had fixated on the continent, and so little on the people."
"It was all about the disease stripping us of our dignity, that the stories of the people – what it is doing to individuals and families and communities – haven’t been told as much. We haven't as media been that committed to telling it in as much as the continent deserves."
"I'm the co-founder of eboladeeply.org because I want to change the discourse around Ebola and really bring in the voices of our people who are suffering, who may not be suffering from the disease directly but are being impacted," said Isha Sesay.
"The media need to hold the international community to account, to say 'Where are you?' We have an Ebola UN emergency fund and there's very little money in it. We have pledges being made, but the pledges aren't being translated into action."
"We have some countries saying they're going to step up and a lot of countries sitting on the sidelines."
The clock is ticking
"Where are we as the media asking those questions and holding people accountable, and staying on the stories and not averting our gaze and being sidetracked to cases of three people in the United States – people whose lives are valuable, critical – we don’t want anyone to die, but again, the epicentre is on the African continent. The responsibility lies with the journalists here in Africa to ask the questions," said Isha Sesay.
"We have to realise that the clock is ticking. The world has never anything like this and the world really doesn't know how to deal with numbers that is being put out there that could become a reality."
"The media needs to do their part in getting the facts out, asking the questions, staying on this story and tracking it and looking at the resources coming into countries."
"There's a lot of stories to be told. There's an information gap here. In the absence of information there's hysteria. And there's inertia," said Isha Sesay.
"I interviewed a survivor of Ebola from Liberia who not only has been cast out but his children are being cast out. He told me his car broke down the other day and the mechanics and they wouldn't touch his car."
Asked how media without the global reach and resources of a 24-hour TV news channel or international newspaper can try and cover Ebola news more effectively. Thomas Evans, CNN London's bureau chief said that "with the story of Ebola, the risk is quite high, so I wouldn't recommend people rushing in without taking proper precautions".
"That being said, that is not the only story - going into an Ebola country. That is not the only way to tell this story. You can talk about what governments are doing, you can talk about the issues of health care systems; these are stories that are equally important."
"Just because you're not in villages being completely wiped out by Ebola, doesn't mean that you can't be telling the Ebola story economically, socially, government response," said Tomas Evans.
Africa’s dilemma with Ebola
"There is another dilemma Africa faces," said Kenya's dr. Susan Mboya-Kidero, president of The Coca-Cola Foundation, saying African countries' governments and local media have an attitude of "let’s not play this [Ebola] too much".
"Just take Kenya for instance. The country the past year has gone through terrorism, security issues, tourism is way down. The last thing African governments need right now is another disaster."
"And so for many they're saying: 'Let’s not overdo this. Let’s not blow it out proportion. Let’s not give the world another reason not to come and not to invest in Africa. And that's the dilemma," said Mboya-Kidero.
"We need to learn from the situations in Nigeria and Senegal and we need to keep telling the stories," said Isha Sesay.
"eboladeeply.org is just about getting the information out, it is also a forum to engage key influencers and thought leaders to look for further answers and solutions to this crisis."