Local News

Liberians in Triangle fight fear, misinformation about Ebola

Posted October 12, 2014 10:12 p.m. EDT
Updated October 12, 2014 10:48 p.m. EDT

— Durham residents of African descent met Sunday with county health workers to discuss the Ebola outbreak raging in their homeland, whether to risk a return visit and how to meet prejudice in the United States.

"We are trying to ensure that people aren't afraid of local Liberians or other Africans," said McSwain Forkoh.

Lowell Dargbeh, who has lived in the U.S. for almost 30 years and is an American citizen, said he is used to the questions.

"Those who hear my accent are interested to know where I'm from. I don't shy away from telling them," he said. "Then sometimes the follow up question is 'How long since you've been home?'"

Dargbeh and Forkoh said they have come to expect reactions of genuine curiosity about Africa, but since Ebola has made headlines, they've seen a different response.

"Once people learn that you are from Liberia and one of the affected countries, people tend to have second thoughts about their association or affiliation with you," Dargbeh said.

Their home country is among the hardest hit by the Ebola virus. More than 2,300 people there have died, and more than 4,000 cases are suspected, according to data collected by the World Health Organization.

Although neither man has visited Africa for more than a year, both have been in contact with family there and are trying to help from afar.

They have sent protective gear such as gloves and masks, and are advising African family members about hygiene protocols common in the U.S.

In Durham, they serve as ambassadors for their country to ease a growing fear.

"What we're trying to do is everything we can to present the information, the right information, to the people, and most importantly let them get the information from the experts," Forkoh said.