Online course on Ebola for journalists
Nobody saw it coming. The West African Ebola epidemic that started in 2013—but wasn’t discovered until March 2014—spiraled out of control before the world fully realized what was happening. Ebola experts thought they knew how to end outbreaks of the virus. Even veterans in the field had never warned that a major epidemic could paralyze cities and countries and kill thousands in a matter of months. Governments, health systems, international organizations, and aid groups were all unprepared.
So were journalists. Many reporters had never written about this frightful scourge before, yet they faced an obligation to provide insightful, accurate and balanced stories about the outbreak and its consequences. Many did a stellar job.
The online course, published by the WFSJ in March 2015 with the support from the United States Department of State, was written and developed by Helen Branswell and Martin Enserink to help journalists who are covering the epidemic, or who may write about Ebola in the future. It covers basic knowledge about the virus and the disease, and how to fight it. Chapters were also included on where to find good sources, tips and pitfalls, and how to stay safe when reporting from the field. Because there are many misconceptions about drug and vaccine development—which were greatly accelerated during this epidemic— an extensive primer on that topic was written.
In addition, most of the material in the course chapters is helpful for anyone covering infectious diseases. Epidemics are never just about disease; there is always human behavior involved, as well as politics, economics, history, geography, culture, and science.
The online course on Ebola for journalists can be viewed here.
Helen Branswell is the medical reporter for The Canadian Press, Canada’s news agency. Based in Ottawa, she covered that city’s 2003 SARS outbreak. She also covered the emergence of H5N1 bird flu and other new influenza viruses, MERS and the ongoing efforts to eradicate polio. Helen also writes about the efforts to develop Ebola vaccines and drugs.
Martin Enserink is a contributing news editor and writer for Science, the weekly magazine. He is currently based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Martin has covered many outbreaks of infectious diseases, including SARS, influenza, and MERS; he has edited most of Science’s news coverage of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.