Credit: Reuters/James Giahyue
Need any further proof of a flat world? Look no further. The Ebola virus disease (EVD) that struck in four countries in West Africa has now taken on global dimensions, showing up in Spain and the U.S. and, we pray, hopefully in no other place on earth. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic as news of the first death in Dallas is announced. Our heartfelt sympathies go to the family of Mr. Eric Duncan. Our even deeper concern and prayers also go the fiancé and all who came in contact with him during the critical exposure hours. What seemed like a far away problem has come onto the shores of the U.S. Just as the last economic meltdown and international comparisons have flattened the world, Ebola has shown our interconnectedness across the globe.
Amidst the cautions and pre-cautions from experts that EVD is not an overwhelming threat in the U.S., people are very concerned and panicked. News that a nursing assistant in Spain who should have been completely protected has the disease hasn’t helped. The possibility of other exposures are being checked out: Tests are being run on the trooper in Dallas and another person in California. Suggestions bandied around range from more screening at airports to a complete flight shutdown. Of course some voices say the former is merely cosmetic and theatrical and the latter unrealistic and anti-business. What are we to do? What’s the effective, reasonable, and yet humane response?
Kudos to Cuba and the U.S. for decisive efforts at curbing this epidemic. Both nations have sent personnel and resources: doctors, medical staff, and the military to build more Ebola containment clinics, you name it. Equally, Kudos to Nigeria which seems to have put a stop to further spread of the virus. Doctors Without Borders, Samaritans Purse, WHO, United Nations, and many other humanitarian organizations are invested in the effort. Our Central Ohio End Ebola Now initiative is activated. The CDC which has mis-stepped more than once with this outbreak has yet again tried to communicate and implement updated protocols. This looks like a long journey ahead of us all as a global community.
Therefore, with the known and yet many unknowns in this epic battle, nothing should be off-limits for examination. I raise questions on a number of actions taken and yet-to be-taken:
1. The Homeland Security has instituted new protocols at five major ports of entry from West Africa–New York, New Jersey, Washington Dulles, Atlanta, and Chicago. Only New York has actually started implementation. Why only these 5 airports? The answer is stunning. Supposedly approximately over 90% of travelers from West Africa come in from these gateways. Really? And the remaining 10% or less?
Travelers are expected to self report if they had been in contact with Ebola ravaged areas or victims. They are also expected to self monitor. It would make sense for them to answer truthfully, but what if they don’t?
Their temperature will also be taken, but it’s a measure that would still miss those who may have been exposed closer to their departure and therefore not symptomatic.
2. Let’s go back over to the coast of West Africa. With insufficient clinics to handle infected persons, and with workers who collect bodies not being paid in a timely fashion, people die and their still infectious bodies are piling up on the streets in Sierra Leone. Could it get any worse? Why would these brave people who are risking their own lives be shortchanged? Other than such embarrassment and unbelievable incompetence, what have other African countries in general done to respond to this crisis, one may ask? One answer could be found in the recently published list of 10 Richest African Leaders, which includes Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan. You can surmise some of what is not happening concerning this outbreak.
3. It might help for the U.S. to not leave any stones unturned. A smart move would be to “borrow” Nigeria’s obviously successful strategy of identifying, isolating, and monitoring people. A nurse suspected of exposure who failed to comply to being restricted had to be sought out and forced into quarantine. It was quite shocking that the Dallas hospital first let now-deceased Eric Duncan go home when he first presented himself at the hospital. But it’s also not too surprising because insurance policies, Emergency Room procedures and a lack of awareness played some part in the flop. Why would the Dallas hospital ER staff be concerned about Ebola that was a problem thousands of miles away? That was then.
To put a definitive stop to the largest outbreak of Ebola in a globalized and interconnected world,
1. African countries need to step up and do their part. With intra-continent travel, the world cannot afford to see further spread of the virus to other nations. Caution and precautions must be taken.
2. Leaders like President Obama are leading on this issue. Most African leaders are yet to lead. This is the time for many of them to cough up stolen and ill-gotten wealth to take care of medical infrastructure and save the lives of their people. Period.
3. Myths and mis-education fuelled the spread of Ebola in the affected countries. We must reject other forms of misinformation that are occurring right now in the U.S. by continuing to provide good information. Implementing a global quarantine of nations and shutting down all intercontinental flights will not solve the problem. But certainly, creating an environment devoid of stigma that allows people to honestly step forward if they have even the slightest suspicion of exposure will go a long way to a successful shut down of Ebola across the globe.
4. Unequivocally, the affected areas in West Africa must be dealt with and supported in their eradication efforts. Liberia’ Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf is vocal about help needed. EVD can only be contained by the rallying together of an interconnected world.