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How the International Community Has Failed the Victims of Ebola

How the International Community Has Failed the Victims of Ebola

The world’s leaders are now in a scramble against time. Ebola patients and suspected cases have begun popping up around the globe. A doctor in Spain died of the virus this week, the suspected case in England put a halt to British Airways flights to the region, a Nigerian man in Hong Kong caused an airport panic and a man who presented viral hemorrhagic fever died in Saudi Arabia after visiting West Africa. These people make up a small sample of travelers the CDC says are ‘inevitable’ in the spread of the virus.

Of course this could have all been avoided. The Ebola outbreak, which some are calling ‘recent news,’ has been going on for months. It went from being isolated in the rural regions of Guinea’s dense forests, to emerging in places like Monrovia and Lagos, chaotic bustling cities teeming with people living in close quarters.

While the international press has chosen to focus on horror stories, some have gone so far as to call Ebola’s spread ‘Darwinism’, ‘nature’s cure’ or ‘natural selection.’ Of course these are the same sort of people who panicked when West Nile emerged in the United States. Because, as we all know, natural selection doesn’t apply to western citizens. As we all know, when earthquakes, hurricanes or disease strikes the USA, it’s a horrific tragedy the entire world ought to be sympathetic to. Yet this sort of mentality rarely applies to Africa.

For those who work in the region, there’s palatable anger. Health officials and civilians alike are tired of the excuses being made on behalf of the developed world.

Ken Isaacs, the Vice President of International Programs and Government Relations at Samaritans Purse, gave a sobering testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week.

“The Ebola crisis we are now facing is not a surprise to us at Samaritan’s Purse but it took two Americans getting the disease in order for the international community and the United States to take serious note of the largest outbreak of the disease in history…The Ministries of Health in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone do not have the capacity to handle these crisis in their countries. If a mechanism is not found to create an acceptable paradigm for the international community to become directly involved, then the world will be relegating the containment of this disease that threatens Africa and other countries to three of the poorest nations in the world.”

The CDC expects more cases of Ebola to spread through air travel in the coming months. Although there are mechanisms in place to deal with the spread, and a large outbreak in the developed world is highly unlikely, there’s still frustration over the lack of care given to the victims in West Africa.

Isaacs goes onto say that despite the WHO and his own organization calling for more of a global response, “Samaritan’s Purse and MSF continued to be the two primary caregivers…that the world would allow two relief agencies shoulder this burden along with the overwhelmed Ministries of Health in these countries testifies to the lack of serious attention the epidemic was given.”

Out of the numerous international organizations that could have stepped up, instead it was another African country that made a significant gesture. Late last month, Uganda sent 20 of its health experts to West Africa to help contain the crisis. Uganda has a history of both Ebola outbreaks and successful containment, often keeping the spread of the disease within the districts and towns themselves.

Although $200 billion has been promised by the World Bank, workers are skeptical about simply throwing money at the problem. Cultural influences, community outreach and psychosocial health all need to be tackled and an influx of money, going to governments known for corruption, might not be the solution.

It’s excellent that the international community is now paying attention to what’s happening in West Africa, even if it is only because of a personal vested interest of keeping Ebola off their own shores. Yet this is a crisis that will leave fear, poverty, instability and restricted commerce in its wake for years, perhaps even decades.

It could have been prevented, and it should have been taken seriously. Now Ebola is knocking on the door of the western world, reminding us that in this day and age, ignoring a health crisis in one part of the world can have devastating ramifications across the globe.

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94 comments

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3:10AM PDT on Aug 18, 2014

ty

4:38AM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

From the article: 'For those who work in the region, there’s palatable anger. Health officials and civilians alike are tired of the excuses being made on behalf of the developed world.'
I believe you mean 'palpable' - probably the spelling checker struck again!

4:33AM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

Ebola is a frightening disease and clearly a lot needs to be done, certainly more than has been done to date. WHO's latest figure for Ebola deaths as of Friday Aug.15 was 1145 (confirmed by lab tests) - there may be many more whose deaths have not been confirmed as caused by Ebola. The mortality rate for this outbreak is 54%

Just to put things in perspective, however, here is a list of mortality worldwide from other infectious diseases (numbers are approximate - data is apparently from 2004):
Annual Deaths (in millions)
Disease Deaths
Respiratory Infections 3.9
Malaria 1.3 - 3.0
HIV/AIDS 2.5
Diarrheal Diseases 1.8
Tuberculosis 1.7
Neglected Tropical Diseases 0.5
Source: http://www.smartglobalhealth.org/issues/entry/infectious-diseases

12:33PM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

10:08AM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

Terry O -
Just wanted you to note that 'foreign countries' are not blaming the poor western world. Actually if you read the article you'll see Ken Isaacs, an American who has tried to help manage the Ebola crisis via Samaritans Purse is blaming the western world. Same with the WHO and MSF who have repeatedly asked for help. These are all western organizations.

It's not 'angry Africans' raving at the USA. It's aid organizations and world health organizations that are saying, we cannot do this alone, if you don't help do not be surprised or act indignant when it spreads to your shores too.

8:39AM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

Had this happened in a wealthy industrialized country well we wouldn't be having this discussion---sadly it now seems to be spiralling.

8:31AM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

I forgot to say;I went to volunteer in Africa 35years ago in a catholic missionary hospital which WE funded ,supported from Belgium.The nuns did a great job and worked long hours as did we.But we did not see a thing coming out of the government.Now, they killed each other 20 years ago and nothing is left standing .Worse now as the overpopulation is dramatic and so will Ebola be soon!
No blame on the West here!

7:36AM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

Thank you

7:05AM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

Too many people only begin to care when it affects them directly.

6:43AM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

Overpopulation brings on poverty and with poverty brings the worst of humankind which takes over the vulnerable overpopulated, hungry, sick people.
Haiti is another example of the above.....it doesn't have to be Africa.

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