Unprecedented. This is how the latest outbreak of the Ebola virus could be described in one word.The epidemic, which started in December 2013, was the first to appear in West Africa since the virus was discovered in 1976. It was also the first time that an outbreak of the Ebola virus occurred in densely populated urban areas. Until then, the majority of outbreaks were confined to rural areas, and never more than 400 cases. This time, the number exceeded 28,000 declared cases.
Neither had an outbreak of this virus ever received such widespread international coverage. For the first time, the virus reached United States and Europe. The magnitude of the epidemic was so high that on 8 August 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it “an international public health emergency?. This resulted in the Ebola virus epidemic going viral dominating the media for months. The concern that the outbreak would extend to the west created panic, in spite of expert warnings that it was impossible to generate an outbreak of the Ebola virus outside the original source.
The media played a highly significant role when informing the public on the Ebola disease and the development of the epidemic. The journalism profession was once again accused of alarmism and sensationalism. Official organisms, from the WHO to Spanish health authorities, also questioned particularly the management of information referring to the infection of the nurse Teresa Romero.
In order to analyse news coverage of the Ebola virus outbreak in the international press, the Esteve Foundation is organizing on 19 January inBarcelona a new debate on scientific journalism. Four journalists and four scientists will discuss behind closed doors the conduct of the media in situations of health emergencies. Gema Revuelta, director of the Centre of Scientific Studies, Communication and Society of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, will be the moderator of the debate.
The scientific community will be represented by Joan Artur Caylà, of the epidemiology service of the Barcelona Public Health Agency; Josep Maria Gatell, of the infectious disease and AIDS service of Hospital Clínic; Luis Encinas, coordinator of operations at Médecins Sans Frontières; and Elena Ronda, of the department of preventive medicine and public health of Universidad de Alicante.
The journalists attending will be Graziella Almendral, of Indagando TV; Michele Catanzaro, of El Periódico de Catalunya, Historia y Vida and Nature; Nuño Domínguez, of Materia El País; and Mònica López Ferrado, of ARA. The eight participants will start the discussion with a diverse selection of news articles published in The New York Times (United States), The Guardian (United Kingdom), The Daily Observer (Liberia) y El País (Madrid) and La Vanguardia (Barcelona). Both the articles and discussion of the debate will form part of a new publication by the Dr. Esteve Foundation, which can be downloaded or requested free of charge.