Get Partisan Politics Out of the Ebola Crisis
The Ebola virus and the disease it causes are not new. It was first recorded in Africa in 1976. It has reappeared since and earlier this year began an epidemic of proportions never before encountered. The main instances of occurrence of the disease in the latest outbreak have been Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Thousands have died from the current outbreak, and many more have contracted the disease, for which no known cure exists and which has a high mortality rate. The main difference in this outbreak has been that the disease has finally spread outside of Africa – both to the USA and Europe.
Though there is no vaccine to prevent Ebola and no known cure, treatment has developed which can reduce mortality, and procedures developed to control the spread of the disease. Unlike some other diseases, such as the flu, it is not easily spread from person to person. Isolating infected individuals and preventing contact with their bodily fluids while they are infected, or after death, is of paramount importance in preventing its spread to new people.
In this country, Ebola has become somewhat of a cause for knee-jerk reactions and fear-mongering among sensationalist journalists and politicians seeking to appear decisive and knowledgeable in their quest electoral success in November. While the disease indeed invokes fear due to its severity and the lack of a cure, much of public outcry and call for extreme measures to stop its spread here has become almost totally political in nature. Political opponents blame the Obama Administration for both failing to keep the disease from spreading to our shores, and then seeming to botch containment when it arrived in Dallas, Texas.
Calls by GOP politicians to halt all travel from the African countries bearing the brunt of the current epidemic, appointment of a Czar by the President to be the point person for all Ebola-related activities and mandatory quarantine of all people coming into contact with diseased individuals, along with media coverage which has seemed at times designed to increase fear among the populace rather than curbing it, have abounded. Such behavior has been evident in every phase of the development of the story, from the first diagnosis, subsequent diagnosis in nurses treating the first patient, his death and so on.
Under pressure to do so, the President named a Czar to oversee activities related to Ebola. He was immediately criticized for his selection, since the choice was not a health care professional. This criticism rings hollow when the fact that the natural person to perform the function – the Surgeon General – does not exist at the moment, because the Senate GOP blocked the President’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, from confirmation to the Surgeon General post. Seem he upset the National Rifle Association by talking about studying the deleterious effects of firearms on the health and well-being of American citizens. If the tobacco lobby had the lockstep control over our politicians that the NRA does, we’d all start smoking cigarettes when we started school. But I digress.
In recent years, while Congress has seen fit to fund any and all means of military ventures and wars under both the Bush and Obama Administrations, it has simultaneously cut funding to health and scientific research that could have perhaps discovered a cure or preventive vaccine to win the very real and suddenly very important fight against Ebola. While we continue to spend enormous sums to defeat opponents in undeclared wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, Congress quibbles over each additional penny requested by the Administration to provide equipment and trained personnel to fight the disease both here and in Africa. Some of our politicians think the best way to fight Ebola is to basically quarantine Africa Those who wish to provide humanitarian assistance in the form of food and bombs in Iraq and Syria seem unwilling to spend comparable effort to treat and cure a disease that has already decimated three countries and overwhelmed their capacity to adequately respond medically to the situation they face.
At first, it seemed somewhat contradictory to send a sizable military presence to deal with a medical emergency, but on second thought, it is true that the military have the capability to rapidly construct the medical facilities necessary to bulk up treatment on the scale necessary in the African nations affected most severely. Unduly restricting travel of medical personnel between the countries only discourages highly-trained medical personnel who have already been risking their lives no a regular basis to treat these people. Charitable organizations such a s Doctors Without Borders have done the bulk of this work, often with little government assistance.
The situation seems to be stabilizing here from the perspective of hospitals and what needs to happen to train, equip and properly safeguard the general public and especially the health care professionals at highest risk of infection. The question then becomes one of providing the resources necessary to perfect treatment and find a cure and/or vaccine that will make the disease less of a threat in the future for everybody. Is the fact that the disease has, until very recently, affected only poor countries in Africa been the reason that it has gone so long with minimal attention and resources being expended to find a more permanent solution?
For-profit pharmaceutical companies cannot be expected to provide the resources to solve problems like this. It costs too much to develop drugs and vaccines to expect a capitalist enterprise such as our pharmaceutical giants to develop a cure or effective treatment with little or no prospect of recouping their costs – especially from the people who’ve been affected the most by the disease. That is why publicly funded research in the area is essential to obtaining and maintaining a high state of readiness in the eventuality of new health crises. Building and maintaining a strong military may placate and enrich those responsible for building the tanks and guns and planes and ships and drones that blow things up that could make life hard on us if deployed against us by other people, but does us little good in fighting a microscopic organism that can just as surely snuff out our existence.
The political hypocrisy and media pandering for ratings at the expense of truth needs to calm down. People’s lives are at stake in this fight against ebola, just as they are when facing ISIS in Iraq and Syria or terrorism anywhere. The chicken hawks who clamor for more boots on the ground (usually filled with the feet of others’ children) and bombs to rain down on people in far away lands need to recognize that heavy-handed spur-of-the-moment reaction does not replace calm, informed decision-making in dealing with crises of any sort. The length and breadth of quarantine for dealing with ebola needs to be established by medical professionals, not people spouting conspiracy theories about ISIS weaponizing ebola to kill us by coming over our overly porous borders. I’d listen to the advice of the physicians I’ve been seeing on TV over Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert and the rest of the Bombs Not Food crowd that seems to populate the airwaves at Fox News and right wing radio these days. .
Ebola needs to be dealt with. People suffering its effects now need adequate treatment. Long term solutions in the form of better drugs and vaccines need to be developed and provided in the amounts needed to serve the needs of all wherever they may be. Over reacting can be as dangerous as not reacting at all. Dealing with a cold snap by burning down your house for the heat is the sort of short-term thinking that really becomes counter-productive very quickly.
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