Geography is not the topic most associate with a spreading virus like Ebola, but a University of North Texas professor said it's convinced him the illness won't get far here in the United States.
Dr. Joseph Oppong, a professor of geography, has been studying the Ebola outbreak in Africa for some time; before it ever reached the DFW area earlier this week.
In his studies culture has played a big part in the spread of the illness throughout countries like Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.
"Just the cultural practices, the cultural context: it's like tinder," said Dr. Oppong. "It's like dried, dead, wood, and this Ebola fire just steps into that context and just spreads."
Dr. Oppong describes it as a culture where people "take care of each other," from hands-on caring for sick family and friends to actually personally preparing the dead bodies of family and friends for burial; bathing and clothing the bodies to give the person a fitting burial.
Along with that he said there’s also a lot of distrust towards the government in these countries and their poor health care systems that are in place.
"Liberia and Sierra Leone have just emerged from civil war, civil war that has decimated the healthcare system," he said.
All of that's left more people caring for those infected with Ebola without proper protection and catching the virus themselves, he said.
"All of those then just become the perfect recipe for this disaster," said Dr. Oppong. "That kind of cultural context just facilitates disease spread."
He also adds that political boundaries in the western African nations have split up many families in the region, so when someone does become sick or dies family will travel from other countries there and spread it to their home.
It's these same reasons that he’s not worried about the illness spreading very far in Dallas.
The healthcare system and local agencies in the area have been working non-stop to keep the sick patient contained as well as others he’s come in contact with.
Dr. Oppong said culturally the situation here is nearly the opposite of what they're dealing with in Africa.
"Once it comes here in terms of the potential spread, I have absolutely no question that it is not a problem. There is no concern what-so-ever because you don't have the same tinder," he said.
He does believe that cases in other developed countries and here in the US will happen.
"Ebola doesn't need a visa to travel," he said, but he hopes the response and differences in those countries will make the difference.
Oppong believes those countries, and the U.S., can also make a difference in the African situation.
He said improving the healthcare system in those countries is crucial in keeping outbreaks like this one from continuing.
He also believes those who have come down with the illness here and in other developed countries can make a difference in Africa's situation by showing care workers and citizens that there is hope, and the illness is not a death sentence.
According to the University, Dr. Oppong is also a U.S. representative to the Geographical Union Commission on Health and Environment, and has been called in as an expert on the spread of Ebola by national and international news organizations.
The professor is also a native of Ghana; the reason he's chosen Africa as one of his primary areas of study.