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A theory that blames Western countries for creating the deadly virus of Ebola, which has killed at least 2,400 people in West Africa this year, is being spread among Nigerians.
The allegations proliferated after an image representing the personification of Ebola went viral.
The image, or meme – a cultural symbol or idea represented by a video, an image or a text shared on the internet – was created on imageboard website 4chan in August.
It shows a white lady, named Ebola-Chan, in a nurse's outfit holding a bloody skull. Her hair ends in what are supposed to be Ebola virus strains.
Along with the image a tagline urges people to write below the picture "I love you Ebola-Chan" if they want to ward off the virus.
What seemed a bad taste, yet innocuous meme at the beginning, turned out to be something possibly more damaging. According to a report by media company Vocativ, some 4chan users "openly hoped that the Ebola-Chan meme and its mock idolatry would find its way onto Nigerian forums, where it had far greater potential to cause fear among a population genuinely at threat from the disease."
In fact, although some 4chan users reacted negatively to the meme, criticising its creators for "sexualising a disease", others hoped the meme could be picked up by media so that "people will start to spread the word that Ebola might be beign spreaded [sic] by the white devil."
The meme did find its way onto the Nairaland (Nigerian forum), where one user wrote a post claiming that Europe and America "hate Africans and worship an Ebola demoness who they call 'Ebola-Chan'. They perform magical rituals in order to spread the disease and kill people. They target the area they want to infect next using blood sacrifices.
"Apparently even some Ebola doctors are part of the cult and instead of treating the disease are deliberately spreading it."
Below the post, someone wrote: "A disease can easily gain powers if these white people in Europe are actually doing blood sacrifice. May God help us fight this CIA created demon."
Another user said: "If they commit such atrocities as shown above, we can't blindly send every hard working African into their clinics and hands. What if we're sending our people to their deaths in these clinics?"
A third person claimed white men are spreading the virus because "[they] want our blood and organs because they have weak bodies."
Aid workers struggling against the virus in West Africa had already previously reported the challenge of misinformation and mistrust among communities, with some believing the disease to be the work of 'sorcerers'.
Nigeria has reported some cases of Ebola in the country.
Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said during a briefing with journalists that Nigeria managed to contain the virus, but has not eliminated it.
Chukwu's comments came as a Nigerian doctor died from the virus in the oil hub city of Port Harcourt. He became infected by a man linked to the first case in Nigeria, Patrick Sawyer, who brought the disease to Lagos.
The Ebola outbreak, the worst in history, is also present in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
According to the World Health Organization, around £614m is needed to prevent the outbreak from turning into a human catastrophe.