Cover image: Ebola


The Ebola virus disease in West Africa is estimated to have killed nearly 5,000 people, with 10,000 cases reported (end of October 2014). Even though outbreaks have now been halted, there is always a risk of a future epidemic occurring in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, and therefore this is still a relevant and interesting topic to cover with your students. It can also link to wider discussions such as volunteers who choose to work in dangerous environments; travel bans between countries and stereotyping diseases. You could start your session with this 4-minute BBC News film clip, which clearly shows the hearbreaking impact of the disease. In the clip people from Sierra Leone explain to the UK charity Street Child how they have lost family members. Do watch the film yourself before deciding to show it, so you can judge if it's appropriate for your pupils. Perhaps start by asking your class what they know about Ebola, whether they think it matters and why. And then they could watch the film, and discuss how it makes them feel, and whether their opinions on the issue have changed. An alternative clip features a British doctor working in Sierra Leone talking about the 'impossible choices' he has to make: Or you could play one or two of the short audio clips from Geraldine O'Hara's Ebola diary which have been broadcast by BBC Radio 4's Today programme - she is a British doctor working for Médecins San Frontières in Sierra Leone. In this BBC School Report from 19 March 2015, pupils and a teacher from Huntingdon Secondary school in Freetown, Sierra Leone chat about how Ebola is affecting their lives, with pupils at Les Quennevais School in Jersey. For younger pupils, CBBC Newsround has a useful guide to the Ebola crisis in West Africa including a number of short film clips. These film clips present the view of British health workers, but it is not just people from 'developed' and 'western' countries that are helping in the Ebola crisis. Many expatriate groups from West Africa are setting up projects to provide support to desperate people in their home countries. For example:

Facts and figures

The British Red Cross explores the data behind the disease with various graphs. The Guardian has an article which debunks some myths about the Ebola virus. The Wellcome Trust blog has a number of posts on Ebola, including a very informative one on Facts Not Fear. Ebola Deeply aims to provide non-alarmist news on the disease and has a wealther of useful facts, figures, opinion articles and survivor stories.

Teaching resources

You could use our Ten critical questions approach to explore the issue of the Ebola virus with pupils. MSF has a downloadable poster How we treat Ebola with an illustration of a treatment centre and showing the protective clothing staff wear. There is also a PowerPoint with an introduction to the disease, explaining how MSF responds. Oxfam's resource, Ebola: behind the headlines has a PowerPoint presentation to help learners understand the crisis, a workshop activity and additional materials for teachers to produce their own resources. The Day (news website for schools) has a number of articles about Ebola. The Geographical Association has an Ebola teaching resource suitable for Key Stages 3-5. The New York Times Learning Network has some quite detailed teaching ideas at Learning from Disaster: Exploring the Ebola Epidemic. Created for a US audience, but could be adapted for UK schools.

Wider issues

There are a number of issues and news stories arising from the Ebola outbreak that could make for interesting discussions in class. Band Aid 30 re-released 'Do They Know it's Christmas?', the proceeds of which went to help victims of the Ebola crisis. You can view the official video at: (Be aware that it starts with a graphic clip of a seriously ill woman being carried away). In late October a collective of African musicians also recorded a song to help raise awareness about Ebola in Africa, see: Your pupils could compare the songs, and discuss which one they prefer, or which might have the most impact and why. What would your pupils put in a song? People from affected countries encountered suspicion and prejudice simply because they were 'from Africa' or 'from Liberia', etc (whether or not they had actually been in that country recently). How would your pupils feel if they were from an affected country? Or if they were in a position of authority? Do they think the opinions and attitudes explored in these articles are justifiable? Australia decided to stop issuing visas to people from Ebola affected countries (Al Jazeera). Do your pupils think this decision was fair? According to the Disasters Emergency Committee Ebola Appeal, the spread of Ebola "is not just killing the infected but also ripping apart health services, devastating communities, and destroying people’s ability to support themselves". Ask pupils to imagine they are part of a response team helping to rebuild services - what steps would they need to take? (The Oxfam resource Dealing With Disasters might be helpful, although the context is a little different.) Finally, this tweet from Hans Rosling at Gapminder is interesting - can your pupils explain why he thinks poor countries and Asia present the 'real global risk'? The image at the top of the page is a colorized transmission electron micrograph of an Ebola virus by CDC Global on and used under a Creative Commons Licence.