West Harlem Development Corporation and Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer’s Office hosted a well-attended community forum in Harlem about Ebola to spread facts about the disease and its transmission in an effort to prevent discrimination due to fear.
The forum featured two panels of medical experts and human-rights advocates who talked about the pandemic in Africa as well as the first case in New York—a doctor who lives in the West Harlem community. Speakers included representatives from New York City’s Department of Health and Office of Emergency Management and Doctors Without Borders.
“Community District 9 in West Harlem has been brought to the frontline of the Ebola crisis with New York City’s first case, and West Harlem Development Corporation co-hosted this important forum to arm people with facts and not allow them to wallow in fear, which creates bias,” said Kofi A. Boateng, PhD, Executive Director of West Harlem Development Corporation. “African children have already been beaten and African hair salons and taxi drivers have already lost business due to fear-mongering. The aim of WHDC and Borough President Gale Brewer is to prevent further bias in our community.”
“When members of the West Harlem Development Corporation brought up the idea for this event at the first meeting of my African Immigrant Task Force, we had no idea how quickly New York City would become central to the Ebola story in the U.S.,” Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer said in prepared remarks for the forum. “While distress and sadness is a proper response for those who have become sick or who have died, we must not allow our emotions to veer into panic and spread fear, misinformation, or discrimination.
“By learning the facts at events like these from medical professionals, New Yorkers can meet the challenges of this disease with our most powerful weapon: the truth,” she said.
The Manhattan Borough President’s Office African Immigrant Task Force played a large role in rallying the distinct African communities’ support behind the forum. Dr. Barbara Wallace, of Columbia University, Teacher’s College, moderated the two comprehensive panels. Panelists were divided into two groups:
• Sophie Delaunay, Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders
• Dr. Mardia Stone, MD, MPH, Sr. Public Health Advisor, Liberia’s Ebola Response
• Dana March, PhD MPH, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Columbia University
• Eluemuno Blyden, PhD, Virologist AfriVax, Inc.
The City’s Response:
• Dr. Aletha Maybank, MD, MPH, NYC DOHMH Assistant Commissioner
• Dr. Rajesh Verma, Dir. of Emergency Medicine at Harlem Hospital Center
• Rudolph Pyatt, Deputy General Counsel, NYC Commission on Human Rights
• Christina Farrell, Deputy Commissioner for External Affairs, NYC OEM
• Israel Rosario Jr., Assistant Commissioner, Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs
“Though the chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola are extremely slim, we understand that many New Yorkers are concerned about their risk,” said Dr. Aletha Maybank, MD, MPH, Assistant Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “Fear and misinformation work against public health and could discourage those who are sick from seeking needed care.”
Civic technologists presented information on how local communities can use data and mapping to assist in addressing the Ebola crisis. Touching and evocative performances by New York African Choral Ensemble, a skit by Blackberry Productions Theater Group and a performance by Hip-hop group Ground Breakers humanized the effects of Ebola.
“Life belongs to the brave,” said Dr. Mardia Stone, MD, MPH, Senior Public Health Advisor to Liberia’s Ebola Response Team.
Christina Farrell, NYC Office of Emergency Management’s Deputy Commissioner for External Affairs, said the city’s coordinating agency is working closely with and supporting the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation, and many other agencies engaged in ongoing Ebola preparedness efforts.
“We will continue to work with all agencies, stakeholders, and partners to ensure that every effort is being made to keep New Yorkers safe,” Farrell said.
Panelist Dr. Rajesh Verma, Dir. of Emergency Medicine at Harlem Hospital Center, urged anyone who has traveled to any of the three affected countries within the last 21 days and who has symptoms, to go to the emergency room or call 911. He noted that emergency room staff will not ask patients about their immigration status or whether they have insurance.
“As the public hospital and health care delivery system in New York City, the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which includes Harlem Hospital Center, has the responsibility to do everything in our power to provide the highest standard of care to all New Yorkers and to ensure the safety of our health care workers, Verma said. “Our HHC staff have been extensively trained and are equipped to screen, isolate and test possible Ebola patients; and if a patient is confirmed to have contracted Ebola, to work with our City’s Department of Health and first responders to safely transport the patient to our specially equipped unit at Bellevue Hospital.”
Special thanks go to the forum’s sponsors and supporters: The City College of New York, NYC DOHMH, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the NYC Commission on Human Rights, West Harlem Group Assistance, Inc., African Federation Inc., Akwaaba Media, African Services Committee, AfriVax, Inc., African Sun Times, WEACT for Environmental Justice, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, State Senator Bill Perkins, Assembly Member Keith Wright, Council Member Mark Levine and Council Member Inez Dickens.
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