When I first set out to write this article, I was hoping to write about the science – the science behind potential treatments, research going from bench to bedside, the importance of clinical trials.
But, this is not what this post will be about.
At the time this article is written, Ebola is raging through West Africa. So far, 4872 cases have been reported, and 2445 have died because of Ebola.
Ebola epidemic is the largest, and most severe, and most complex we have ever seen in the nearly 40-year history of this disease…No one, even outbreak responders, (has) ever seen anything like it.
– Margaret Chen, WHO Director General
Now, much of the early attention has been on the science. What is Ebola – and why isn’t there a cure? What kind of potential treatments are available? All great, because people should learn about Ebola. But little has been discussed about how it got to the point it is right now.
So if this is not about science, what is it about?
I could only imagine how I would feel in that situation, watching others get sick and die, wondering if I would be next. Then I considered the deplorable conditions — no visitors were allowed, and a bucket served as a bathroom — and how I, wearing my protective ‘spacesuit’, must have looked to the curled man. The idea of becoming sick with Ebola in Sierra Leone frightened me.
– Daniel Kelly, wrote about his experience interacting with Ebola patients
It is about the long-term distrust between the developing and developed worlds, the uneven distribution of wealth and resources, the unsettle political situations in parts of Africa, the lack of local research and healthcare infrastructure.
It is about not even receiving the basic supportive care, which could make a significant difference in the outcome of an infection.
It is about assuming that everyone in this world “should have known better” but forgetting that not everyone has the same access to resources, information, health care, and education that we in developed countries do.
It is about the developed world profit from the natural resources and cheap labours in Africa, and then say “hey, this crisis is not scary until it hits our homes.” Because, until then, it is their problems, not ours.
We clearly have the power to care. The #IceBucketChallenge raised hundreds of millions for ALS research. The iPhone launch had people lining up outside of the Apple Stores for days. Yet, the Ebola crisis seems to have taken a back seat in most news coverage since the very beginning.
I am hoping that the tide is changing. Starting from more people calling for international actions. Starting from developed countries realizing that everyone is affected by this. Starting from WHO and UN taking a real leadership role in this crisis because it needs to be done. Starting from more first-hand stories from those in the middle of this outbreak, like this, this, this, and this PBS documentary.
But more importantly, I hope we will start to change. That we will start to think about crises like this as crises for all; we are simply lucky enough to be born in the developed world, to have access to health care, to have years of education – privileges that not everyone in this world gets to enjoy. And that sooner or later, this crisis is going to affect us all – not just public health-wise, but also politically and economically – no matter where we are. I just hope that more people won’t have to die for it.
Science, alone, cannot resolve the Ebola crisis. But with humanity, we can.
Please take a moment to donate to Doctors without Borders: US link; Canada link (Note that the donations might not be earmarked specifically for the Ebola crisis. This is simply so that they can spend the money for effectively at where it is needed, including but not limited to the Ebola crisis. I am okay with that – they are probably drained by Ebola and could need funding for other important, life-saving initiatives. They also spend 80+% of their money in the field.)
Here are a few great articles I’ve come across:
- As a Canadian, I am extremely frustrated by our government’s inaction: Read An outbreak of red tape in the Ebola fight by Michael Petrou (Macleans). This is further emphasized by Gerald Caplan in his article, Systemic problems made Africa vulnerable to Ebola :
This week WHO said it needs $1-billion for its Ebola work. That’s nothing more than punk change if the world cared. Canada, for example, found it could afford an average of $1-billion-plus each year of the 12-year war against the Taliban. Yet unconscionably, it’s taken until this week for the world to begin anything like a serious response to the epidemic. But in the words of Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of Medecíns Sans Frontiérès – and where would we be without MSF? – these latest contributions are “absolutely not enough.”
As if proving her point, the Harper government just announced Canada’s latest contribution to this massive emergency: $2.5-million in personal protective equipment for medical staff working in the affected areas. Maybe this was a typo. Or maybe it just doesn’t fit with the Conservatives’ pre-election strategy.
- Ebola – the World’s Katrina by Judy Stone (Scientific American Blog) – one of the best I have read.
- America’s shameful ebola ignorance: The troubling truth about our attitude toward the virus by Susan Sered (Salon) – As a Professor of Sociology, she discussed how the Ebola crisis has been portrayed by western media, and the real reason for the distrust of foreign health workers.
- The Canadian response to Ebola: a new science diplomacy? by Pascal Lapointe & Karine Morin (Science Borealis Editorial) – an excellent summary, probably will have you asking more questions than getting answers from.
- The virus detective who discovered Ebola in 1976 by Rob Brown (BBC News Magazine) – A very very interesting story, I highly recommend it.
- Ebola doctor reveals how infected Americans were cured by Dina Fine Maron (Nature | Scientific American) – It speaks to the importance of supportive care to treating Ebola. The lack of basic health care equipments and resources is making it much more difficult to treat patients.
- Why Ebola Is Making It Harder To Provide Good Health Care by Richard Harries (NPR) – It is not only Ebola that is killing people. The exhausted health care systems mean that patients could die of very treatable illnesses such as malaria.
- I’m the head nurse at Emory. This is why we wanted to bring the Ebola patients to the U.S. by Susan M. Grant – Really moving.
As human beings, we all hope that if we were in need of superior health care, our country and its top doctors would help us get better. We can either let our actions be guided by misunderstandings, fear and self-interest, or we can lead by knowledge, science and compassion. We can fear, or we can care.
If you have more time, check out the following collections of articles on ebola
- Science Magazine Special Collection: Ebola Virus
- Nature News: Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
- The Conversation: Ebola
- NPR: Ebola
- BBC: Ebola Outbreak