Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola or A Case Study in Selfishness

During halftime of the football game Sunday night, I switched channels and stumbled upon some local news - the lead story of which was a school in New Jersey where parents were up in arms because two kids from Rwanda were supposed to start school Monday. Parents were scared of Ebola. The school sure didn't help matters, saying they were following the state recommended guidelines for monitoring, even planning to take the kids' temperature three times a day.

Not once was it mentioned that Rwanda is roughly as close to the ebola outbreak as Madrid. If there were two new students from Spain would the paranoia be so high? Stories since have presented a bit more of an even perspective, but the interest in the US and the slant of media coverage is an embarrassment to all of us.

Exactly three people in the US have ebola: one guy who didn't get screened properly (partly his own fault) and two nurses who helped him in the hospital. Ebola is deadly and spreads more easily than most serious diseases, but it's not airborne, you can't just breathe it in.

What's more - and this is where it gets more than a bit sad - thousands of Africans have contracted ebola; thousands have died. They're predicting a lot more before they get the disease under control. This is a real and dangerous crisis - just not for Americans.

As rich Westerners, we're protected from a lot of tragedy considered normal in large parts of the world. Yet we always find ways to make even the most remote problems about us. I mean, I guess that's the human condition, right - asking "How does this affect me?" But, c'mon people, can we focus on reality as opposed to possibility?

I read an awesome article today entitled "How Did Nigeria Quash Its Ebola Outbreak So Quickly?" A great read, but my first thought seeing the title? I didn't even know Nigeria had contained its outbreak. Shouldn't this be headlining our news instead of encouraging the self-centered fear that leads to - I'll just say it - racially (or at least ethnically) tinged paranoia.

I know it's en vogue to believe the US government is completely useless, paralyzed, and incapable of handling anything - but honestly, Nigeria is tackling this thing. Nigeria recently had a finance minister discover $20b (with a b) worth of oil revenue unaccounted for - when he brought this up to the President, the President fired him. No one has spoken of it since. Twenty billion might be what our government spends on toilet paper each month, but it amounts to a third of Nigeria's oil revenue (which in turn accounts for 70% of the government budget in the 7th most populous country on earth). THIS government is handling ebola well. I'm pretty sure, despite all the useless haranguing of CDC officials by Congress (because of course three days in DC is more important than actually handling a disease response), our nation can manage to contain the problem.

There are no direct flights between the US and affected African countries (save two routes going less than daily to Lagos, Nigeria - a port city hundreds of miles from the CONTAINED outbreak area).

I'm not saying you should ignore the (extremely slim) possibility you might catch ebola. If you want to be concerned, please do. Washing hands and being careful with personal interactions will keep you healthier and avoid spreading diseases - things that will come in handy as we enter flu season, a disease far more contagious and from which more than one person in the US will die in the next few months.

Yep. Flu. We all know it's out there and yet we somehow manage to be vigilant without scaring the heck out of our children and making some immigrant family needlessly keep their kids home from school for a month (again, Rwanda is about the same distance from Liberia as Miami is from Seattle).

In closing:

It is ok to be concerned about your friends and loved ones catching a deadly disease; it is not ok to be more concerned about their potential illness than the actual illness of thousands of people in immediate danger.

It is ok to be concerned about your friends and loved ones catching a deadly disease; it is not ok to act before you think. That harms other people. It brings you some sense of peace and security at real cost to other people. That's not ok.

No comments: