Ebola Epilogue

Ebola Epilogue

President Hollande of France entering an ebola hospital in West Africa.
President Hollande of France entering an ebola hospital in West Africa.
The apparent slowing of the spread of ebola in West Africa is almost as worrisome as the outbreak itself.

Many will think I’m crazy to write an epilogue to this story before it really is over, but like so many global crises the ebola epidemic will become forgotten the moment headlines disappear.

We really shouldn’t do this, this time. There are four extremely important lessons to be learned, that right now I hope everyone can understand.

First, the situation today:

There are just under 7,000 reported deaths from ebola, just under 17,000 reported individual infections, and both numbers are likely low because of the difficulty of accurate reporting in the ebola infected areas.

Foreign help is working. ABC reported yesterday two pages of good headlines about ebola in Liberia, including Obama’s troops and hospitals coming online, Chinese hospitals coming online, and the possibility there will be no new cases at all in Liberia.

With all the accelerated research and development of diagnosing and vaccinating against the disease, I predict ebola in West Africa will be contained in the first quarter of next year.

In a demonstration of similar optimism, the President of France visited a hospital in Conakry, Guinea, on Friday. Conakry is an epicenter of the disease.

With an outbreak of this magnitude it’s difficult to imagine it will ever be completely over, since so much of the area retracted into primitiveness as a result of almost two generations of horrible, scathing war.

But I’m willing to take the risk of being premature for wont of not losing public attention. We have four serious lessons to take from this situation:

Lesson 1.
American culture in recent times craves being terrorized. There could be all sorts of reasons: remnants of 9/11, poor education, the Great Recession … whatever. Whether it’s vampires at the cinema, fear of ISIS or “open borders” or ebola, we crave being threatened.

In all these cases, “The Threatener” is the demon. Imagine, for example, if some horrible virus literally as bad as ebola or worse suddenly broke out in Des Moines. We would not be closing our bridges over the Mississippi or road-blocking I-80.

A virus worse than ebola did break out in America in the 1950s. It was called polio. Some parents did keep their kids out of school, but most didn’t even do that.

Ebola happened in BLACK Africa. All our reactions this time demonstrate racism to the core of our beliefs. Polio in Pittsburgh is god’s will and we will overcome it. Ebola in Africa is the work of the devil.

Lesson 2.
America today leads the world in short-term thinking, and that short-term thinking is why we have an ebola epidemic to begin with.

America’s political system is the best example. We fund the government almost from month-to-month. We have no long term social plans.

We cherish quick stock trades; we tutor our third grader just enough to get into fourth grade; we hand out just enough food stamps to take us through winter.

We lay globs of asphalt in cracks rather than pieces of new cement and then get furious when the cracks get bigger the next year.

Our hearts may be in the right place, but our minds are in Pluto. We pass referendum to increase the minimum wage for a long-term benefit to everyone including the shop keeper that gets the extra dough, but then elect politicians who vow to reduce the minimum wage to balance next year’s budget.

Tom Sommerville writing today in African Journalism argues so well that the ebola epidemic today is a result of American-dominated short-term thinking manifest by the IMF and World Bank.

He’s right on, and I’m not going to summarize his thinking, just go to his link above.

Basically, you get what you pay for. America has led the world paying discount prices for a modern planet that needs a bit more quality than we’ve been willing to accept.

It’s so counterproductive! We spend literally millions of dollars to intercept ebola (so far, no one) at our airports who has a temperature, but resist funding Obama’s emergency request to build ebola hospitals! Now how ridiculous is that!

We all know where this is going to lead, don’t we? Didn’t your grandpa give you your first piggy bank? If you neglect the oil change, won’t you have to buy a new car sooner? Come on guys, get real!

Lesson 3.
I’m probably the greatest offender, admitted, and I am constantly trying to reform myself, so at least I’m ahead of many.

So I can attest first-hand of this horrible American affliction, exaggeration. Texas has to be the biggest place. My kids are always above average, thank you Garrison. My yard has the greenest grass. My pastor is the kindest man. My dog is the sweetest and … my enemy is always the devil incarnate.

Current ebola infection stats are horrible but nowhere near as catastrophic as earlier predicted. Both the CDC and WHO are now loathe to make future predictions, since their earlier ones were so off base.

Those quantitative assessments that earlier suggested “millions” of possible cases from institutions as respected as WHO and the CDC make me wonder if those organizations suffer from the same scientific deficits as Senator Inhofe.

Opponents of realism, of what is right in the world, of what should be done morally and practically, will now use these exaggerated claims to stop funding Obama’s ebola eradication mission, and this will kill hundreds if not thousands of more people than would otherwise be saved.

Lesson 4.
When I’m working in Nairobi or Johannesburg, I’m just about the same distance from the ebola epicenter as my kids are living in New York.

Every single capitol city in Europe is closer to the ebola center than any city in the U.S.

There are three nonstop flights daily from West Africa to the U.S. (two into JFK and one into Dulles). Daily, there is only one into Johannesburg and no non-stops into East Africa. There are dozens of nonstops daily into European capitols.

It has absolutely astounded me how bad Americans’ knowledge of basic planet geography is. I started work in Africa 40 years ago, and I was astounded then that someone in Chicago thought Dakar was as close to Nairobi as Detroit is to Cleveland.

But that has persisted, and there’s no explanation except poor education.

* * * *

The outbreak of ebola, the messy containment, the lessons that won’t be learned from the situation, are every man’s responsibility, every man on earth.

America cannot yet shed its responsibility as the world’s greatest power, and so it has to assume its greatest responsibility.

Remedies begin at home, of course. They begin with adjusting ourselves to realism and moralism. It’s a very dark time in America right now. Kids, get us out of this!