For now, the Ebola virus does not exist in the minds of the majority Zimbabweans. Only those few who have access to radio and newspapers have heard about.
Even these think Ebola is something that happens only in West Africa where 1 600 cases have been reported of which 900 resulted in death.
Europe and the Americas thought so too, until about a week ago when the virus knocked on their door. Two American doctors working in West Africa are, as we speak, battling for dear life after contracting the deadly disease.
Recently, a loving father was flying back home to the US for his daughters’ birthday parties when he fell ill on the plane and died while still on the African continent.
This is how nearly the contagion crossed the Atlantic into America. The consequences, had he made that trip, are too ghastly to contemplate.
A death has been reported in the United Kingdom and in Spain. This only proves that no country on earth is safe. This is the reason why Zimbabweans should begin talking about Ebola. Dozens of Zimbabweans live and work in West Africa and they regularly fly back home on holiday.
Because of the speed of flight, it’s a matter of hours before one of these lands on one of our airports.
Are the facilities and the expertise there to tackle even the first single case of the disease? For starters, the state of preparedness must be very high and government must lead in this.
It is easy to say the country is ready because of the level of competence of our health personnel; after all, one of us has flown to West Africa to help in the global effort to fight the disease. But is that enough assurance?
A few years ago, Zimbabwe failed to handle a cholera outbreak that killed more than 4 000. The Ebola virus is a much more virulent pathogen than cholera. Medicines for cholera are now commonplace and almost every Zimbabwean now knows how to prevent it.
The same level of knowledge should happen with Ebola; the nation needs sound education on this. Both adults and children should know the signs and symptoms of the disease and how to handle any suspicious cases.
Even in countries where previous outbreaks of Ebola had been reported it was discovered the citizens had inadequate knowledge of the disease.
In Liberia and Sierra Leone, those living in cities thought the disease only attacked rural folk. Such myths have to be done away with.
Traditional ways of handling sick people should be discouraged. These include rushing to traditional healers or to the so-called prophets.
Not only is there no known herb to treat Ebola, but also there is no known deliverance from it through miracles.
It is clear nothing beats a sound education on the disease.
It is heartening, therefore, to know that Southern African Development Community health ministers met in South Africa this week to figure out strategies for a regional response to the disease should it land on our shores.