The Ebola virus proves Earth is a global community. People can no longer pretend that problems will remain localized; isolated by extreme distances. Diseases, pollution and global warming all spread despite humans’ best intentions.
Ann Coulter recently made headlines by calling an American doctor who went to Africa to help contain the outbreak and ended up contracting Ebola, “idiotic.” Coulter, a conservative commentator, stated that Dr. Kent Bradley would have been better off performing missionary work in the United States. She believes spreading medical care and Christianity in Hollywood would be more worthwhile than saving lives in the “disease-ridden cesspool” of Africa. Obviously, Coulter is wrong. The outbreak in Africa threatens global stability. It has spread from Guinea to Liberia and Sierra Leone. None of the local healthcare systems in those countries have the ability to contain the disease.
Ebola has now come to the United States and to other advanced nations. Doctors and aid workers who are infected with Ebola have been flown to their home countries to receive premier treatment. This poses very little risk to the general public as they have been carefully quarantined, but may serve to advance medicines and therapies to help fight Ebola. Few doctors can leave their work and families to attack the disease on the front lines. However, a new pool of talent and inspiration can now get a first-hand look at the virus and possibly devise new avenues of eradication.
If Ebola were allowed to spread rampantly throughout Africa it would inevitably arrive at American shores in a less controlled way. As it began to spread in the United States it would be impossible to pinpoint its entry and quarantine all possible patients. It is important that the United States be invested in helping these African nations stop the disease within their borders.
Ken Isaacs, the Vice President of International Programs and Government Relations for Samaritan’s Purse, has called the initial international response a failure. Samaritan’s Purse is a first response charity with years of experience with medical crisis. Isaacs said only a broad, coordinated intervention would slow the speed at which the disease is expanding. It is not a surprise to those at Samaritan’s Purse that the disease has crossed borders and is out of control. There is a small window when the disease is first discovered to aggressively attack an area and contain Ebola’s advance. Western nations did not react quickly enough with adequate resources and personnel. Only when Americans and other foreigners began getting sick did the situation in West Africa attract true global attention.
The World Health Organization has declared the Ebola outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan called for global solidarity in addressing the crisis. “Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own,” Chan said. “I urge the international community to provide support on the most urgent basis possible.” This outbreak of Ebola is on track to infect more people than all previous outbreaks combined. Already the outbreak has lasted six months and killed nearly 1,000 people.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, believes the cases of Ebola in Africa are under-counted due to lack of infrastructure and aid workers. Better equipment, labs and procedures are crucial for containing the virus. The three African countries currently infected do not have the resources to combat the disease. International intervention is necessary to save lives and prevent Ebola from becoming a pandemic. “What’s most important,” Frieden said, “is that people understand that there is a clear way to stop this outbreak — and that’s at the source in Africa. This, he said, is the only way to get it under control.”
New tools for controlling the disease may soon be available. Experimental drugs that increase the chances for survival are being developed and tested. Unfortunately, testing a new medicine for human use is a lengthy and complicated process. None of the drugs have been cleared for mass commercial production and use. The CDC has begun to ease its requirements for clinical trials in order to speed up the process. Both Americans who returned to the United States were given experimental drugs and both seem to be in recovery, but thousands of Africans will continue to die without access to the medicines.
A disease such as Ebola makes ethical medical decisions very difficult. Ebola is a virus without a cure and a 90 percent mortality rate. When death from the disease is so likely, it seems silly and arbitrary to withhold medicine because it may have unknown side-effects, but doctors need to take a long view and the first rule of healthcare is to do no harm. Doctors want to go through established and proven steps to ensure drugs are effective and safe. Developing appropriate drugs provides the best chance of eliminating the virus quickly in the future.
Though extremely deadly, Ebola is also fairly rare. Every few years the virus comes out of hiding, emerging from the jungle to infect humans. When people lived in isolated villages the disease might wipe out a population and then retreat. With increased population and more mobility, humans are now at greater risk for the disease to spread uncontrollably. In past decades, response to the disease involved tracking down patient zero and quarantining any person who may have come into contact with the disease. With over 1,700 cases of the virus, following the chain of contact is an insurmountable task. It is possible that potential victims will try to flee. Perhaps some will even try to come to the U.S. for the life-saving treatments not available in Africa.
It is popular in conservative circles to complain about the funds the United States designates for foreign aid. They say the money would be better spent on struggling or sick Americans, but this summer the U.S. is learning that it cannot isolate itself from world problems. It is better to send resources to fight a disease like Ebola in Africa than to let it spread. The Ebola virus proves Earth is a global community. Americans help themselves when they help their neighbors.
Opinion by: Rebecca Savastio