Students learn about Ebola during panel held in the Global Neighborhood

Attendants learned about the historical and contemporary factors facilitating the spread of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Elon University students and community members learned from Elon scholars about the historical and contemporary factors and contexts that have created a public health crisis in some Western African states that currently have an outbreak of Ebola: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

As part of the Ebola Education Week at Elon University, Omolayo Ojo, an Elon African Society and Global Neighborhood student leader, moderated a panel discussion about this topic in the Media Room of the Global Commons.

The Nov. 13 panelists were Aunchalee Palmquist, assistant professor of medical anthropology, and Brian Digre, professor of history. Palmquist talked about the characteristics of the Ebola virus disease, an often fatal hemorrhagic fever illness in humans that is spread mainly through human-to-human transmission. Palmquist highlighted the importance of understanding the intersection of poverty, poor health infrastructure and miscommunication about caregiving in West African contexts.

Palmquist also explained that the cultural conceptualization of Ebola with simplistic references to exotic burial practices and bush meat eating, without explaining the context, is problematic.

Digre talked about the history of the Ebola virus disease, from its first identification in 1976 in Yambuku, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from which the disease takes its name, and another outbreak in the same year in Nzara, South Sudan, to the current situation of Western African states that have cases of Ebola today.

Digre said the West African nations most recently impacted by the disease are developing countries with relatively weak economies and infrastructure, which are emerging from violent political conflicts. These factors resulted in very poor local responses to Ebola.

Local and international medical personnel, such as Doctors Without Borders, continue to face tremendous risks as they attempt to isolate and care for Ebola patients in West Africa.

Both Palmquist and Digre emphasized that heath is a basic human right and also a global issue. Thus, international communities with stronger resources, staff, and health systems should continue to care for and commit to help alleviate the suffering of their fellow human beings in West Africa.

The Elon African Society, Elon Partners in International Development, and the Tanzania & Ethiopia Winter Term 15 led by Digre and Assistant Professor Mussa Idris (formerly the Ghana History Winter Term program) partnered to organize this panel and increase awareness at Elon about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The groups are also participating in fundraising to support the efforts of Doctors Without Borders.

If you have any questions about this panel or about the Ebola Education week, please email Brian Digre ( or Omolayo Ojo (