By Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, interim editor-in-chief
Reuters reported Thursday that there is no Ebola outbreak after all in the southern Sudan. Rather, the rumors were started by local administrators and representatives of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) “to draw attention . . . to the acute lack of medicine” in the area, according to Kuol Diem Kuol, an SPLA spokesperson. According to Reuters, the false rumors that 20 soldiers and three of their wives had died were successful in bringing health personnel to the area to investigate . . . and to provide the desired medicines.
I can’t help thinking that conditions must be really really bad if the Sudanese people went to the lengths of staging a hoax to receive health care. After all, this is a people that has withstood some of the worst brutality in recent memory from civil wars and the genocide in the Darfur region. The United Nations estimates that over 300,000 have been killed and over 2.5 million internally displaced since 2003.
And we can probably expect more violence and death—a press briefing this past Monday by the UN secretary general noted that UNAMID, the joint African Union and UN mission in Darfur, is expressing “grave concern” about a military buildup in northern Sudan that may indicate “a new cycle of armed confrontation.”
In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president, Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, for crimes against humanity and war crimes. His response was to ban the 10 largest humanitarian agencies from Sudan. These agencies were for many the only source of health care and food.
I have to admire the ingenuity of those who perpetrated the hoax, whether or not the hoax had government approval or will instead mean severe reprisals for those behind it. Knowing how little regard their government has for its citizens, they made sure the rumors involved dead soldiers.
Meanwhile the world community stands by and does what? Despite Barack Obama’s campaign criticism of the Bush administration’s “normalization” of relations with the Sudanese government, early this week the Obama administration presented its own strategy in the form of a “menu of incentives and disincentives” for the Sudanese government—rather than more aggressive measures that could force real change.