January 19, 2015
By: Diana Curtis
Currently, Ebola is not a North American epidemic. However, this doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Ebola is a major issue for countries in West Africa, the epidemic centralized in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Only one person in the United States has died from Ebola. But in West Africa? A total of 6,928 reported deaths since December 2013. Ebola is geographically located in one area, and we are lucky enough to not live there. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care.
Some countries, like Nigeria and Senegal, have been able to quell the outbreak in their areas with support their economies, but others are still suffering due to the lack of infrastructure necessary to combat the virus. Unlike the United States and other first world countries, many regions in these areas cannot afford much extensive and effective prevention and treatment of contagious viruses like Ebola.
There are several factors as to why Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia struggle to control the epidemic. Some are due to the general public distrust of political and medical officials, influenced by past mistreatment and inadequate health service. Hospitals in West Africa are not immune to the extreme experienced in some areas of these countries, and therefore oftentimes fail to maintain sanitary and safe spaces for patients. These impoverished areas have limited access to resources like clean water and soap, increasing the risk of spreading the Ebola virus.
Doctors Without Borders has been the most effective and largest working NGO in West Africa, working on the prevention and relief of the Ebola crisis. On September 3rd, the president of Doctors Without Borders spoke out, criticizing the United Nations and its member countries for their lack of aid and assistance. The United Nations since responded by stating that stopping the outbreak can only happen if there is a “massive” global response. The World Health Organization stated, “The Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa is the most severe acute public health emergency seen in modern times. Never before in recorded history has a biosafety level four pathogen infected so many people so quickly, over such a broad geographical area, for so long.”
And maybe you’ll ask why we should care so much and why we should focus on Ebola in West Africa. Maybe you’ll insist that our first and foremost obligation is to ourselves. Maybe you’d rather see our government continue to take preventative measures to ensure Ebola doesn’t reach the states. And, yeah, that’s important. I’m with you on that one. But taking care of ourselves and taking care of the global community are not mutually exclusive.
The United States claimed responsibility for the protection of international human rights when it ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, created by the United Nations following World War II. It consists of thirty articles that promote the recognition and protection of human rights internationally, including our accountability to people’s safety and health.
Article 25, subsection 1: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
We need to keep this article in context of the Declaration’s Preamble: “Every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.”
The United States, along with many other Western nations, has long assumed the position of protector of human rights, which include public health. We cannot neglect the people in West Africa without invalidating the very morals that are the foundation of the United States.
Let’s spend less time in hysterics, exaggerating the danger of Ebola and instead focus our energy into supporting the numerous NGOs and governments around the world who are aiding West Africa through humanitarian actions including education on prevention, and treatment and relief of the disease. We can encourage Congress and our government to assist the international aid happening in West Africa and be part of the solution.
Let’s acknowledge that we are safe, appreciate our health, and mobilize support for West Africa – the true victims of Ebola.
Diana is a freshman studying a variety of topics, living up to her “undecided” label. She is from Holland, Michigan and has seen her fair share of parades dedicated to flowers and windmills. In her free time she enjoys blogging and knitting. Seventeen going on seventy.
This year’s Ebola epidemic has been one of the deadliest and largest in history, and as a first year Epidemiology student, there is almost nothing else that we talk about with such fervor and intrigue. On the other hand, because I’m in public health, the questions that I have received directly from family and friends, or indirectly from wild, hysterical posts on social media, have made me think seriously about the effect the media has on all of us….
So today I present you with the facts about Ebola. There is absolutely no reason for chaos, panic, fear and/or hostility for people dying of Ebola in America. We have the resources to deal with the virus – it is West Africa where the epidemic is raging that needs the help and support of the world.
First of all – how does one contract Ebola? There are numerous crazy people posting all sorts of theories on the Internet. All of them serve as examples of how the world ignores the true call for help. These are the facts: - Ebola is spread through direct contact. This means you must be touching an infected person’s bodily secretions (blood, sweat, mucus, vomit, feces, semen, breast milk, saliva) to actively contract it.
Given the cases that have happened in America so far – this make sense. They are healthcare workers directly involved with Ebola treatments.
Additionally, contact in this way can happen even after a patient with Ebola has passed away…which is how a lot of the virus has been spreading in West Africa. Improper funeral preparations and burial practices without knowledge of this fact have contributed to a lot of transmission.
Ebola can also be contracted from contaminated medical equipment like needles and syringes… which again goes back to the previous point.
Finally, Ebola can be transmitted through infected apes/primates…the lowest risk for us in America, but a very real and often unknown fact in much of West Africa.
Given all of this information, why is the Western world in uproar over this disease? It seems many of us have forgotten the concept of humanity – angry talks of quarantine and travel bans (these are among questions I’ve fielded) are not what is needed in the fight against this virus. What is needed is calm, rational reporting, and aid to West Africa.
Fear is an amazing motivator. Fear is also something that is not well understood. Fear is what is spreading the worry about Ebola, because Ebola is a disease that instills fear in us, and the fear is unwarranted. One of the professors as the School of Public
Health, Dr. Eden Wells, has been giving a lot of talks about Ebola in conjunction with some of the other professors. Check them out for more reasons on why we all need to calm down about Ebola, recognize it for what it is, and stop it in its tracks at the heart of the problem.
Instead of investing our time in hyperbolic media messages, unnecessary fear and worries about Ebola, we should all be committed to helping out in West Africa. Currently, Medicine Sans Frontiers is spearheading most of the relief efforts as over half the Liberian healthcare infrastructure has crumbled due to Ebola. Doctors Without Borders is struggling to help everyone who needs help. Consider donating to them if you can…let’s stop the fear mongering and start helping. I have personally been to Liberia and it saddens to me to hear the stories. A barely-there infrastructure is fraying even more, and doctors and healthcare workers are dying by the dozens. Literally half the infected healthcare workers in Liberia have died from the disease.
The CDC estimates even more deaths from Ebola continuing into January. While there is a reason to worry about Ebola, it is not because it is a threat in America. It is a threat on the other side of the world and it is our global responsibility to help.
Aparna Ghosh is an International Health Epidemiology student at the School of Public Health. Her interest in global health stems from her love for community service. She has been a volunteer with the Red Cross since 2006 and founded her own nonprofit (Dance to Empower Stronger Healthcare - DESH) as a way to increase healthcare awareness in rural India. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking and Indian dance.