It is the curse of an educated writer to know that an appeal for sanity, rationality, and common sense reaches only those who are ALREADY well educated about the things that are currently causing mass hysteria. You can shout the truth from the tallest building around with the best microphone and biggest speakers you can buy, and you’re still not going to reach the people who need to hear it the most.
Nevertheless for the sake of my own piece of mind I feel compelled to shout the truth and hope that even one person who needs to hear it will listen. *ahem* THE EBOLA VIRUS IS DANGEROUS BUT IGNORANCE ABOUT THE DISEASE IS THE REAL KILLER. YOU the reader do not need to freak out about a pandemic, and if you are freaking out because “OMG EBOLA” is the headline every time a patient is treated for the disease somewhere outside of Liberia or Sierra Leone, STOP.
The statistics are grim – 50 to 70% of the people infected with the disease die. The reasons for the high mortality rate have as much to do with the apathy of the “first world” toward a “third world” problem as the Ebola virus itself. It is this same apathy that causes humanitarian charities to produce commercials that showed starving children with protruding rib cages picking through trash piles and being covered with swarming flies. The “shock effect” seems to be the only way to wake up the humanity of the 1% of the world that controls the wealth that could be directed toward the 99% that are living in dire poverty. Unfortunately that message ALSO falls on deaf ears.
Wealthy individuals tune out the plight of the downtrodden in the same way wealthy nations ignore the lack of basic health care in countries who don’t have anything substantive to offer them (even though many are former colonies that were essentially raped of any valuable resources they ever had). A fully developed and functioning health care system could have responded to the Ebola outbreak, but almost nobody who saw the potential for it bothered to direct the money toward preparing for it. Even more damning is that a lack of grassroots activism in local culture that could have taught good sense practices to health care providers who WERE dealing with the disease how to not spread it.
Ebola is not (at least at present) an airborne virus – the infection is transmitted person to person. The same reason anybody reading this is unlikely to get it is because Western societies tend to quarantine anybody with an infectious disease and then through “contract tracing” anybody they came into contact with. The exact opposite of this happened with health care workers and providers in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. It’s only human nature to want to hold the hand of someone who is sick and dying, but this sympathetic reaction is what caused the disease to spread so quickly. Complicating matters is that the unfortunate health care workers then get blamed for CAUSING the disease, and they are then shunned or attacked when they try to reach infected population centers. Furthermore a culture of secrecy and shame takes hold, so infected family members are hidden instead of reported to health workers – which simply spreads the disease to everyone else in a family and the surrounding community.
The sense of panic and fear which has gripped the population centers where the disease has spread has subsequently been exported around the world, even though the disease itself thus far hasn’t. Outbreaks outside of Africa are likely to be squashed quickly, which is fine in the sense that everybody can stop freaking out, and horrible in that it condemns the people who are suffering RIGHT NOW to an agonizing and painful death thousand and thousands of miles away. If you can’t see it and you can’t feel it then it’s not your problem… right? That type of thinking should have disappeared a long time ago especially in the increasingly interconnected world we live in. The wealth of China, India, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States could all have been brought to bear BEFORE this outbreak. It could have been brought to bear DURING this outbreak. And yet what’s really damning is how much time and opportunity has been wasted to nip this in the bud. There aren’t enough beds for the sick, let alone trained health care workers who know how to prevent the spread of infectious disease to treat them. The money and resources could have been directed to fighting the Ebola virus long before the crisis reached this point.
Let it be said thought that this editorial should not be viewed from the Eurocentric lens of Rudyard Kipling as though a “poor people” need the “hand of the West” to solve their problems. I’m talking about a humanitarian crisis that should motivate people both inside and outside the borders of these countries to act. The countries of the African continent don’t want to be treated like they’re infantile of impotent. That kind of thinking caused the resentment toward the Western world meddling in Middle Eastern affairs like “big brother knows best” that has caused nothing but pain and bloodshed on both sides. Wealthy nations can not simply dictate to the impoverished ones on how to solve their problems – but a willingness to open dialogue on both sides is how to solve this and many of the problems of a developing world. “Deaf ears” in either direction won’t do, and neither will forcing a solution to a problem on people who never understood the nature of the problem to begin with.
1. DON’T PANIC. Stop spreading fear.
2. Educate yourself about the Ebola virus first.
3. Spread the knowledge to others. Knowledge is ALSO infectious.
4. Encourage those with the resources to help the afflicted to direct them where needed.
5. Don’t pretend the problem doesn’t exist, but if you start to feel overwhelmed by the scope of it, SEE STEP ONE and start over again.
It’s not too late. Even now it’s not too late. Even a year from now if tens of thousands of people are infected it’s still not too late. The reason to act now instead of later is a simple one – it’s not to save yourself from a dreaded infectious disease – it’s because people you don’t know personally don’t need to suffer needlessly. This kind of thinking needs to apply in all circumstances, not just when Ebola scares the shit out of everyone.