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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