FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Ebola Catches Fire

Well, we’ve let it scare the hell out of us.

In total ethnocentric, self-serving fashion, Americans didn’t worry about Ebola until a man died from it in the United States. Now people are reacting as if Ebola will bring about the end of the world by next Tuesday (or is it Thursday?)

It ought not to have happened this way. We’ve known what it is from earlier outbreaks; we even waited and watched as it spread beyond the usual limited areas, until the numbers should have told us that, this time, it could mushroom into something huge and have a significant impact on other areas of the world besides West and Central Africa (which we basically don’t care about).

Two weeks ago, Bloomberg Businessweek documented the way government agencies (and Republican parsimony) treated the disease’s urgency, refusing to support adequate funding for basic research that could have been completed at a fraction of the expense that the current outbreak will now cost us.  And that doesn’t even factor in the enormous human suffering. We believed that we could save money by pushing the problem into some vague time in the future—the same way we deal with our crumbling infrastructure. Well, this will be much more horrific and costly than rebuilding a collapsed bridge.

It’s taken until the last ten days, with the initial cases of Ebola in the United States, for most Americans even to become aware of the problem. Now people are panicked, likely to respond in completely irrational ways. Last week, FOX news commentator Elisabeth Hasselbeck asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, why we simply can’t seal our borders and keep Ebola out. That may be one of the most naive questions ever asked on Fox TV, but it typifies the ignorance of most people concerning the disease. Dr. Fauci was so taken aback by Hasselbeck’s question that he hardly knew how to respond.

Ebola’s going to be almost impossible to fix by waving a wand, because most Africans have no access to basic health care. Nor do they have that much knowledge of preventive health: sanitation, washing hands, cleanliness. The reason? The majority of them do not have access to safe water; they live in remote areas, where news still travels slowly; they believe in indigenous solutions for confronting sickness and disease. They want to attend to their dead in a respectful way, which means touching the bodies. But safe water is still the basic health problem. Even in big cities like Lagos, Nigeria (with its millions of people), you can’t drink the tap water.

African governments have extremely limited resources for dealing with any health problem, let alone Ebola. Have we already forgotten the way that AIDS spread across Africa twenty-five years ago? Hopefully, Ebola will not become such a big killer, but in the process of being contained, it is likely—as most Africanists have already speculated—to destabilize a number of already fragile countries, resulting in mass starvation, social breakdown, and chaos, as people (the ones who are affluent and mobile) try to get OUT of the path that they now see spreading Ebola.

Before its full retreat in Africa, Ebola will spread to most of the continent and to the Western world, not in large numbers but enough cases for Westerners to become much more worried than they already are. African borders are mostly porous; people can easily move from one country to the next. There will be affluent Africans who will start doing whatever it takes to get away from the troubled areas. They will cross borders in lorries, taxis and other inexpensive methods of transportation and keep going until they reach a destination from where they will be able to hop on a flight or a boat that will take them outside of Africa. Can you blame them? This outflow of people—some of them already infected, as Thomas Duncan, the Liberian who died in Texas must have suspected he was—will bring Ebola with them in increasing numbers.

Fortunately, Western countries will be able to contain these cases, but the panic—as we have already observed—will become huge. Again, remember the fear about AIDS? So we’re going to see individual cases of Ebola pop up in hundreds of places outside of Africa, not just the few we’ve already observed. And this will—besides putting a strain on our own health systems and frighten people even more—hopefully finally get us concerned enough to fund the research and complete it for a vaccine or vaccines. In the meantime, it’s not going to be pretty.

Watch carefully, as the uninformed continue to spread the fear of contagion by their noise, their desire to blame someone, and the ugly incidents we are likely to observe as they throw away everything rationale for the hysterical.

Charles R. Larson has observed and written about Africa for more than fifty years. Email: clarson@american.edu.

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
Dean Baker
In Praise of Budget Deficits
Howard Lisnoff
Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence
John W. Whitehead
Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America
Priti Gulati Cox
“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story
Missy Comley Beattie
On Our Knees
Mike Garrity – Carole King
A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat
Robert Fantina
The Media-Created Front Runners
Tom Clifford
Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F
Ron Jacobs
All the Livelong Day      
Christopher Brauchli
Banking, Wells Fargo-Style
Jeff Mackler
After Week-Long Strike, Oakland Teachers’ Contract Falls Short
Chuck Collins
Bring Back Eisenhower Socialism!
Binoy Kampmark
Grounding Boeing
James Munson
Why Are We Still Sycophants?
Jill Richardson
Politicians Are Finally Catching Up on Marijuana
Warren Alan Tidwell
Disasters Don’t Discriminate, But Disaster Recovery Does
Robert Koehler
Artifial Morality
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Goodenough Island in MacArthur’s Wake
Alex McDonald
U.S. Iran Policy: What is Great?
Tracey L. Rogers
Stop Making Women Apologize
John Sarbanes – Michael Brune
To Clean Up the Planet, Clean Up DC First
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail