FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail