Ignorance and stupidity are not synonymous.
Although often wrongly used interchangeably, they describe altogether different handicaps — different limitations in processing information and dealing with life’s challenges.
Stupidity is often a deliberate rejection of known facts.
Ignorance is the consequence of lacking the information necessary to make informed decisions.
The people in the forested regions of sub-Saharan West Africa are far from stupid. Over the millennia, despite formidable environmental and climatic obstacles, they have devised strategies for survival that might well have eluded more sophisticated urban folk.
The ability to wring sustenance from plants and creatures native to the region, or to track a single animal for miles across dense bush country, then dispatch it with an arrow or spear, is a talent not to be scoffed at.
What has brought these reflections to mind are the accounts in recent weeks of the struggle by villagers in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere in that region to somehow halt the spread of the almost invariably fatal virus Ebola — a struggle that so far has met with very limited success.
Recent reports from the afflicted areas recount instances of volunteers from Doctors Without Borders, the humanitarian medical organization, being physically threatened and turned away from villages in the plague-stricken area.
It’s not an issue of hostility but of raw fear.
Medical treatment requires touching. And mere contact with an infected or deceased victim can transmit the virus. Thus well-meaning caregivers can actually be agents of transmission.
That is why terrified villagers seek to prevent even traveling medical personnel from entering their area.
They are not stupid, and they have no wish to die. But without any previous experience with Western medicine, they feel obliged to turn for help to purveyors of the tribal remedies upon which their people have relied for generations or in some cases centuries.
It’s not that they are without information, but rather that the information available to them is useless in the face of the dire threat they now face.
The great majority of rural Africans are without reasonable access to sophisticated medical service.
Only since the end of the long era of colonial rule has serious international effort been focused on combating the myriad of diseases that afflict millions of the continent’s residents, shortening their lives and complicating their struggle for economic advancement.
With today’s ease of travel and the resulting contacts between individuals from every corner of the planet, it has become clear that distance from a disease’s origin is no promise of immunity.
Ebola, in other words, is only a plane ride away.
For more of C.W. Gusewelle, go to gusewelle.kansascity.com.