Ebola 2014: ‘Sympathy is No Substitute for Action’

Have you heard the news? Between Ebola and ISIS, most of us will be dead in approximately six to eight weeks — results may vary — and we can really get this whole apocalypse thing started with some pomp and circumstance.

Unfortunately, though I can’t speak for any impromptu meteors or second comings, the truth is that the wait for the end of days will be a bit more protracted. Despite the constant stream of information from the thousand potential news sources and the array of conspiracies, such as the CDC throwing Ebola in our drinking water, it is safe to say that we have gotten a little ahead of ourselves with screaming pandemic as far as Ebola goes.

This isn’t to downplay the global crisis that Ebola has been steadily brewing in its rather ominous cauldron. In West Africa, over 4,000 people have died due to the disease, and we can assure you that it is not a pleasant way to go. It is misery incarnate and our hearts break for those who have had to suffer that slow, agonizing torment.  As long as the disease continues to rage through Africa, Ebola will rear its head across the world, with a handful of cases appearing even in first world countries. It is not a disease that we want to ignore.

This being said, go to any of the websites that have splashed Ebola stories across their front page; paradoxically enough, you are sure to find an editorial or column telling people, and even the media, to calm down about Ebola in America. Frankly, as far as pandemics go, Ebola is not all that good at being one. The disease, deadly and horrible to behold, pales in comparison to the raw destructive capabilities of the Spanish flu, which killed anywhere between 20 to 50 million people between 1918 and 1919. Unless every hospital in America starts handing out Ebola viruses as pets, we are unlikely to see those kinds of numbers. Yes, Ebola is one of the deadliest diseases known to mankind, but it is only contractable through contact with a victim’s bodily fluids. This makes organized countries with quarantine protocol and early detection systems in place the natural enemy of the disease.

But, as mentioned, there has been plenty of talk on why Ebola isn’t actually that significant of a threat to us here in our comfortable, modern country, so let us go back to Africa. In most of West Africa, health spending, per individual, is less than $100 a year. Hospitals are overcrowded with patients with Ebola. Health care workers, both citizens and foreigners, have come in direct contact with the disease due to poorly implemented procedures for dealing with cases; many are left to be cared for by unprepared family members and others are left to die alone in the streets or in their homes — their rotting cadavers found days or weeks later. This is pretty grim imagery, yes? Well the situation in Africa is dire and to say otherwise would be a disservice to everyone involved.

Yet, it really only seems Americans started talking about Ebola when a man, off a flight from Liberia, had been walking around the streets of Texas with the disease. We get it; it is hard to care about what is happening a sea away in a land known to suffer travesty after travesty. Many of us, despite the compassion we may feel for the immediate people in our lives, are numb to the suffering of people in a strange and distant lands. It would be easy to accuse everyone in America of being fickle and prone to listen to the palaver of talking heads rather than the actual experts. We may want to adjure all readers to care about the people in Africa simply because they are people suffering. This method, however, has proven ineffective in the past. So, let’s try the more utilitarian approach. By worrying about Ebola cases in this country, we are treating the symptoms instead of the disease. We are certainly not sending a meager amount of aid to Africa, but the public conscious is not exactly concerned about Ebola abroad; it is concerned about it here. Honestly, we could continue on this path and likely be fine.

In all likelihood, we would continue to get a few cases of Ebola every once and awhile, as long as the outbreak tore up Africa, but a true epidemic here would be unlikely. But, for many Americans, allowing any amount of Ebola into this country is a non-starter. A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that 32 percent of Americans are either somewhat or very worried about Ebola infecting them or someone they know. Considering the frequency of Ebola stories and Ebola talk on the Internet, this is pleasantly low, but it still expresses a growing fear for many Americans.

This concern has been expressed through talk of shutting off all air travel from the Western African countries to the U.S. This is an attractive idea, we admit, and it would probably slow the flow of the several Ebola threats that have trickled into the country, but it is just one more method of curing a symptom. Let’s pretend we did cut off all air travel from ground zero. If the disease is not stopped at ground zero, it will continue to creep across the rest of the world. Other countries would have cases of Ebola, even in the first world, and other third world countries would fall to similar epidemics. We would have to cut off more and more air traffic to our country, potentially even shutting off fellow modernized nations. In addition, we would greatly discourage aid workers to travel across the sea and assist. These countries rely on this assistance, and the problem would worsen the less health care workers that the countries have. This is certain.

Even if every country in the world stopped the flow of traffic to West Africa, letting the disease disseminate unchecked in a secluded area and letting victims die in a pressure cooker, the people of West Africa would eventually fight back. Civilians would attempt to flee in droves, some carrying the disease with them. Besides being exceptionally cruel, this is not a working model.

For now, if we really want to stop Ebola in its tracks, we must, barring an actual cure or vaccine, find its roots and pull it out. Ebola is mostly contained within these few West African countries, and this is the perfect time to stop the disease. Yes, the U.S. Government is involved in the crisis; we have not left the people there to their fate, but the quickest way to get bureaucracy and legislatures to act more confidently, especially in foreign affairs, is to direct it with a healthy heaping of public outcry. If we, the media, want to constantly talk about Ebola and stir up panic, let’s at least direct it to a useful place.  Even if America was never to suffer a large sum of Ebola infections and Africa sorts itself out independently, would it really be so terrible to expedite that process, and, in the process, save a few thousand lives? After all a solution is “better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”

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