Dorothea Lange 4 families, 15 children, from Texas Dust Bowl, in roadside camp, Calipatria, CA Mar 1937
Ebola was until a few weeks ago mostly a forgotten affliction in the western world. Something that flared up in the Congo or thereabouts, parts of the world we’re aware of only because of the horrors of machete attacks and other mayhem induced by our own secret services in order to keep ‘our’ access to their mind-boggling amounts of resources going, while their populations live in conditions many miles below squalor.
We have applied divide and rule in the Congo better, or more ferociously, depending on your point of view, than anywhere else, ever. Hardly a word about western cruelty seeps through to our own media. A true imperium success story.
But the present ebola epidemic is not taking place where the disease was mostly raging. It’s in western Africa now. Where immense segments of native forest have been cut down, which in turn brought long-time ebola carrying fruit bats closer to other animals, and in turn to humans long dependent on bushmeat for survival.
Somewhere in that chain of events it was probably inevitable that an epidemic would break out. Of ebola or any other of a long list of viral or bacterial diseases. It’s also inevitable that a next epidemic will follow.
Until recently, my own personal knowledge of ebola was limited to the idea that it was one of, if not the worst way for a human being to die. Intense internal bleeding will do that. Something I find sorely missing in western media coverage of the people dying by the side of the road in west Africa. How they’re dying, that is.
It’s treated in a very detached way, as if it doesn’t really concern us until it might spread our way. ‘Western’ cases get treated with experimental drugs, while 4000+ Africans so far have been left to perish by the side of dirt roads in excruciating pain.
The ones that did receive treatment were attended to by local doctors, and that has led to dozens of the best and bravest doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia succumbing to ebola themselves, a major feat in countries where per capita access to a doctor is mostly a tenth or a hundredth of what it is where we live. Take away doctors out of that situation, and that’s not even including nurses, and you have a disaster on your hands.
I’m not an expert on ebola or infectious diseases in general by any means, but I can read, and I can think, and occasionally I manage to bo both simultaneously. And what I see so far is a sweet mix of complacency, denial, stupidity and human error.
There’s a lot of political interest in downplaying the danger ebola poses. There’s even more economic interest in doing that, but then the two are Siamese twins. As of today in America, and last week in continental Europe, that attitude has become a threat to potentially millions of people.
I saw someone comparing HIV deaths to Ebola deaths, with the intent to downplay the threat, 1 million HIV deaths, ‘only’ 4000 ebola deaths. But ebola’s just getting started, and it’s much more contagious. Which makes such comparisons as irrelevant as it makes them dangerous.
The first Ebola infection on US soil that was announced today developed in the exact same way the one in Spain last week did: a health care worker tending to a confirmed ebola case got him/herself infected. Both ‘2nd generation’ cases have no idea how they were infected. The US nurse was allegedly wearing full-body protective gear all the time, while the Spanish nurse herself said she had no clue how she could have gotten the disease.
In the US case, we know that the first deadly victim, Thomas Duncan, had been in Liberia. He was sent home by several medical services after both reporting symptoms, and stating he’d been in ebola infected territory.The very same thing happened to the Spanish nurse, who was sent away from at least 3 clinics with a Tylenol prescription, after she had said she’d been attending to an ebola patient.
The patient she had been nursing was a priest who had been flown in from Africa after exhibiting symptoms. He was, however, the second Spanish priest in that situation. The first one reportedly died in the same hospital in Madrid as long ago as August.
Madrid got a lot of flack for the infected nurse: it was accused of not having its precautions properly in place. We should now review how well the Texas Presbyterian is doing in that regard. Given the fact that the Texas nurse diagnosed, or rather confirmed, today, was allowed to lead a normal personal life, socializing, shopping etc., until (s)he started exhibiting obvious symptoms, should make us feel queasy.
There will always be plenty political voices more than willing to declare that ‘there is no need to panic’ or ‘now is not the time to panic’, but we need to realize that what politicians and media say is inevitable based on economic grounds.
It might be worth contemplating to isolate western Africa from the rest of the world, halt flights etc., and meanwhile give them all the support we can, no matter what the cost. We choose instead to do everything related to support on the ground on the cheap, bleeding WHO coffers dry while we’re at it, and we let transportation options continue, because it would cost ‘too much’ not to. Money will rule our approach to ebola, like to everything else, until it’s too late.
Ironically, it was George W. Bushmeat government’s bio-terrorist anthrax and flu paranoia in the wake of 9/11 that injected a lot of money into America’s epidemiology protection layers. If not for those paranoid billions, I kid you not, G-d help us. His epitaph will read not only that he was an accomplishes portrait painter, he may well also have saved America from a much worse epidemic than it’s yet to get. America could sure use some of that paranoia right now.
And so could Europe, where everyone to a man solemnly declares that the chances of ebola appearing in their country are slim to none. And where dozens of flights arrive daily from west Africa. To paraphrase the CDC’s Mike Osterholm: the virus moves at virus time, we move at bureaucrat time.
The nurse is Madrid is reportedly healing, she’s been given the experimental ZMapp drug. We better get a million doses of that to Liberia and Sierra Leone. But we’ll probably fight over the economics of that until we need 10 million doses.
We’ve maybe grown so accustomed to living in a casino economy that we think the world is a crap table. But some things had better not be wagered on. Remember the Spanish Flu. Or should I say: Remember the Spanish Flu? Again, we tell ourselves no major epidemic could hurt us. We understand viruses as poorly as we do the exponential function. Which happen to have lots in common.
Judging from what we’ve seen so far, our health care systems are woefully unprepared for even single cases of ebola infection occurring on our soil. What’s going to happen when there’s dozens? Are we just going to say that there’s ‘only’ a 25% chance of that, based on some computer model? Or are we going to make sure we do what we can to keep ebola away from our lands?
There’s only one way to make sure: get into western Africa now, with all we have. Good for us, and good for our karma.