By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As panic over Ebola spreads in some areas of this country, many African immigrants living in Philadelphia say public ignorance about the continent and the disease has led to misdirected Ebola stigma and discrimination.

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Fear over the Ebola outbreak kept two students returning from Rwanda from attending school in Maple Shade, NJ, and subjected a Northampton High School student from Guinea, in West Africa, to bullying chants.

“We’re getting to the point where all Africans in the community are going to be stigmatized,” says Chioma Azi of the African Cultural Alliance of North America (known as “Acana”).  She says the growing stigma comes from Americans’ view that Africa is a country, rather than a continent with scores of countries spread over more than 11 million square miles.  And this ignorance, Azi says, is leading to more discrimination.

“My own grandmother was denied medical treatment by her own doctor, who treated her for 15 years. They told her they couldn’t treat anyone who was coming from Africa,” she says.

Her grandmother is from Uganda, which is more than 2,800 miles from the region of the Ebola outbreak.

“They’re really reacting out of fear and not out of knowledge,” Azi says.

But Azi is not the only person with stories of stigma.  Africom-Philly, a coalition of African and Caribbean immigrants in Philadelphia, has also received reports.

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“A woman told me when she returned from Ghana and attended her ESL classes, she was pulled out of class,” says Eric Edi, president of the organization.  “They wanted to check where she came from, whether she was sick, etc.  They told her it was better if she stayed away for a while because of the Ebola crisis.”

Edi says that woman has since been readmitted to class, but the rising fears over Ebola is increasing the stigma targeted against all African immigrants.

Still, says Edi, “We have been proactive.   We are trying to get the word out so we can break down stereotypes surrounding these issues.  People should not be automatically suspected of having the virus just because they come from a country in Africa.”

Azi, of Acana, says local African organizations will hold an informational meeting on Friday, 6:30pm, at the Upper Darby Senior Center, 326 Watkins Ave.


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