Americans do not understand the ebola epidemic: They are reacting in the same unthoughtful way they do to unvetted political ads and sound bite media.
The ebola outbreak in West Africa is serious, like a lot of other things, like poverty. In fact, diarrhea, flu and TB kill millions more Africans (and Americans!) annually.
Americans must think think they are protected from those other diseases but vulnerable to ebola.
They’re dead wrong.
A traveler today to Monrovia, Liberia, where the current outbreak is centered is more likely to get diarrhea, salmonella, TB or malaria than ebola. The several hundred patients in ebola clinics in Monrovia have all come from rural areas where even basic medical prevention not to mention simple hygiene and community sewage treatment, doesn’t exist.
The problem is squarely and simply that there aren’t enough treatment centers – which would easily contain the outbreak – to service the growing numbers contracting the disease in the remote bush.
The widely reported half dozen medical workers from developed countries who contracted the disease were all working in these remote areas. In the course of their normal stint in such an area, they expect – as my wife and I did – to contract a number of local diseases.
It has less to do with the disease than the environment in which the disease exists.
Ebola is not spreading in Monrovia, a modern city. That is not to say that Liberia doesn’t need a lot more help than the western world is giving it, because Monrovia is where the Liberian epidemic will end. But it won’t end without the help it needs!
The problem goes well beyond ebola, now. Medical worker assistants like orderlies and kitchen staff and maintenance staff in Monrovia, many of whom are not paid any more relative to medical practitioners than in the U.S., are abandoning their jobs in droves.
That has led to a reduction in overall medical care, including birthing centers and simple malaria and diarrhea recovery clinics. As the entire country gets worse medically overall, every disease – including ebola – grows in potential.
And that is a terrible – horrible – indictment of the developed world. Compare the western world’s response to the Haiti earthquake or Philippines tsunami to Liberia’s current dire need. It has been pitiful, embarrassing and I think immoral.
When ebola came to Atlanta in a chartered aircraft and the patients who contracted the disease in rural Africa were then quarantined, it did not spread. The efforts in the hospital in Atlanta to contain spreading of the virus were little different than for a variety of even more contagious diseases like numerous varieties of staphylococcus.
Antibiotic-resistant TB, which is on a dangerous increase throughout the U.S., is spread through the air – respiration: coughing, sneezing, breathing – one of several more worrisome diseases than ebola in a modern medical setting. Ebola, like HIV, is spread only through body fluids.
The unwarranted American fear to ebola is identical to Americans knee-jerk reactions to 30-second political ads or 2-minute headliner news.
And when that reaction builds, the perpetrators of that media rev it up.
Ebola outranks Ukraine on CNN, because that’s what people want to view. When Democratic Senator Mark Pryor in a political fight of his life wants attention, he talks about ebola!
CNN asked a few days ago, “Are Myths Making the Ebola Outbreak Worse?”
CNN is, unfortunately, concentrating on the growing fear in West African residents. What about the fear that CNN instills in its viewers that translates ultimately into less help from the western world?
What about people in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine much less Ferguson, Missouri, who are getting less attention because ratings demand talking about ebola?
Alright. But what if you’re planning a safari to Africa?
Right now your chances of contracting ebola during a Kenya, Tanzania or southern African safari are probably less than if you holiday in London and infinitely less than if you holiday in Morocco and a lot less than if you holiday in Greece, southern Spain or most of the Mideast.
That’s because the frequency of air travel right now between west and east or southern Africa is so much less than to those other areas I mentioned. London is about 500 miles closer to Monrovia than either Johannesburg or Nairobi. There’s a hugely greater exchange of people between London and Liberia right now than to east or southern Africa.
Moreover, it’s also true because the level of medical facilities in Nairobi is better than Monrovia, so if ebola did break out in Nairobi it would likely be easily contained. And as for South Africa? Remember about a generation ago, the first heart transplant was conducted in South Africa.
The last thing I want to do is minimize the seriousness of this epidemic. But frankly I get rather angry when I realize Americans fear this far, far away epidemic exponentially more than their own TB epidemic in poorer neighborhoods across their own country.
I just can’t figure it out. Is every American a teenage girl obsessed with Twilight?