I thought about Ebola early last month flying at 35,000 feet with a plane full of people I didn’t know. Liberian Thomas Duncan had entered this country by air, took ill with what was diagnosed as Ebola in Dallas, was eventually quarantined and treated, and died. Makes one look around and want to see what all the coughing is about in the seat three rows back.
Over the last two months I’ve followed the news enough to know that protocols are now in place domestically to afford crucial early detection, that Ebola detected early and treated need not be fatal, that doctors and nurses on the front line of treating Ebola are among the bravest people in the world, and that politicians who ignore medical science by closing our borders and imposing mandatory quarantine requirements deserve all the ridicule that can be heaped upon them for their medieval ignorance. ( Bring out your dead )
The Ebola epidemic is serious business and it’s no longer a West Africa disease alone, not when we are in a global economy. Richard Preston’s scary and informative article in The New Yorker ( The Ebola Wars ) raises the disturbing prospect of various strains of a rapidly evolving Ebola virus that may take as yet-unknown deadly forms.
Despite early missteps, the Center for Disease Control and hospitals have established and trained in equipment and quarantine protocols. Like the veterans we just honored and the armed forces we spend billions of dollars on, first-line doctors and nurses deserve the very best in equipment and training. After all, as Paul Farmer says in the London Review of Books, ( Diary ) the US “has the staff, stuff, space and systems” to contain any epidemic within its borders.
I wondered after reading Preston and Farmer whether I would have the courage to comfort Ebola patients, even given the proper equipment and training— and I have to say, I don’t know if I would. I can hardly imagine what it must be like to treat Ebola patients in the hospitals of West African nations. Now that the initial panic in the US has passed with the successful treatment of Dallas nurses and New York City doctor Craig Spencer, the news cycle moves our comfort level farther and farther away from the Ground Zero of Ebola in West Africa.
But Ebola and scores of infectious disease outbreaks that risk becoming pandemics won’t simply go away. “Understaffed and undersupplied, front-line health worker in West Africa have good reason to be afraid,” Paul Farmer writes. “We who aim to help them, though better equipped, are afraid too.”
Here in the US, we still argue about affording medical “staff, stuff, space and systems” to all our citizens. Maybe I’m not ready to go to the front line but I’ll share our “staff, stuff, space and systems” with all Americans, West Africans and the people of the world. We're not dead yet.