What Is It Like Reporting from the Center of an Ebola Outbreak?
(Sasha Joelle Achilli)
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 11,000 people since starting in December 2013. Today, the number of cases is finally slowing down, but the crisis was still raging when filmmakers Dan Edge and Sasha J. Achilli travelled there in September to start work on the FRONTLINE investigation, Outbreak.
They spent four months filming, traveling from villages in the forest region of Guinea to government hospitals in Sierra Leone to the bustling capital of Liberia.
Edge and Achilli sat down recently to answer some of your questions about reporting on the outbreak. They recounted their experiences, including how they protected themselves against Ebola, and dealt with the fear and tragedy around them.
“Going home throughout the making of the film changed me because I found a huge amount of fear and suspicion of me from people, you know, friends or family, who were scared to come near me and scared even to come near our kids,” Edge said.
“It really energized both of us to do as good a job as possible,” he added. “We wanted to try and lay out really, make a piece of really constructive journalism that lays out quite clearly what happened — what mistakes were made, because mistakes were made — so that we can all learn for the next time, because there will be a next time.”
Here’s what Edge and Achilli had to say:
1) What was your most memorable moment while filming?
“I think that was probably the first time that I got a real close-up view of what somebody dying of Ebola looks like. And there was blood on the sheets … he was no longer just a blood sample; he was a person with a name and a family.”
2) How did you overcome your fear? How did you stay safe?
“I don’t think I did overcome my fear … It got to me. It’s not exactly being afraid, it’s being … very tense. You’re always second guessing yourself.”
3) Do you think this experience has changed you?
“Going home throughout the making of the film changed me because I found a huge amount of fear and suspicion of me from people, you know friends or family, who were scared to come near me and scared even to come near our kids.”
4) Is public health outreach about Ebola working?
“… All of a sudden we saw all these children sort of running. And we asked one of the kids what was going on and he said the Red Cross has arrived to the school … they’re spraying Ebola, they are bringing Ebola to our school.”
5) Why weren’t precautions followed to prevent the spread of Ebola during the outbreak?
“It’s certainly true in Sierra Leone and Liberia as well, but we found it particularly in Guinea … There’s an assumption in those villages that if the government says something, they’re lying.”