War Against Ebola Marred With Self Preservation Rhetorics

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Written by Andrew Friedman

Over the past several weeks the spread of Ebola has gone from a relatively localized public health crisis to one with the potential to impact the entire world.

There has been tremendous growth in exposure throughout West Africa, with more than “7400 confirmed, suspected and probable cases” leading to more than 3400 deaths, found primarily in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as recent spillover into Nigeria and Senegal.

The disease has spread further throughout the world with cases reported in Spain and the United States, both through individuals traveling from affected countries and contracted through health workers treating the already infected.

This has fueled the fire of fear across the globe. International terror and the near-apocalyptic rhetoric of western pundits has added to already prevalent calls for global powers to unite to find a solution to the contagion, but the suggestions coming from such fears have been counterproductive.

Here at AFKInsider we profiled the role that Ebola played in the United Nations General Assembly, where the unprecedented gathering of heads of state and foreign dignitaries designated the disease as a “threat to international peace and security.”

The UN also created the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, the first time such a body has been created for an individual disease since the creation of UNAIDS in 1996.

Now, as the chorus of calls for an international response grows even louder, countries have been forced to contend with how to best combat Ebola. The hysterical rhetoric of American pundits and politicos has led many to demand full on isolation for afflicted countries, including voices as high ranking as presumed Republican Presidential candidate Bobby Jindal.

Suggestions have included shuttering airports and disallowing flights to and from affected countries along with closing borders to travelers from such states.

Such suggestions are directly contrary to the near-universal opinions of public health experts that such a reaction will be disastrous and will cause horrific humanitarian consequences, economic free fall and a greatly worsened impact of the disease.

Not only would such actions cut off much of West Africa from the world economy, costing economies untold millions, they would ensure that medical workers and supplies are difficult to provide, costing lives and furthering the spread of the disease.

Preferring the approach advocated by experts in the field of public health, individual countries have opted to step up their involvement in the fight against the disease rather than isolating West Africa. The past week has seen commitments from the United States, the United Kingdom and others to send help.

Coordinated Global Response

The United States, in a fact sheet released by the White House on Monday detailed the whole of the US response to the epidemic. First, 3,200 US troops will be deployed in late October. This is not a static number as “the total troop commitment will depend on the requirements on the ground.”

America will also provide engineers and medical personnel to construct and staff Ebola treatment facilities, with construction totaling at least 1700 beds in hospital facilities.

Despite these promises, progress has been slow. An initial 25-bed facility to treat health care workers is not only yet to be completed, according to NPR, workers are “still spreading gravel on the construction site.”

Additionally of the 65 health care workers needed to open the facility, only 8 are currently in country. The slow progress is not limited to that facility. The 17 treatment units that will make up the promised 1700 beds are not expected to be operational for 2-3 months. All the while the disease is spreading.

The United Kingdom has similarly committed assistance, with more than 400 British medical personnel headed towards West Africa and a promise of 700 treatment beds for those stricken in the region.

Hanging over the response of Western European nations is the potential that the disease will be found within their own borders sooner rather than later. A recent study conducted by American researchers saw a 75 percent chance that the virus will be found in France by October 24.

The same study saw a 50 percent chance that the virus will arrive in the UK in the same time period. Lesser, but still prominent chances exist in Belgium and Switzerland, at 40 percent and 14 percent respectively.

The lower-risk countries must still ensure preparedness, as the study gave a 14 percent likelihood that the virus would be found during that time period in Spain, where a nurse was recently infected.

Ebola, as the UN put it, is a “threat to international peace and security.” As such, it must be fought with a concerted effort by a wide variety of international actors with the capacity to build and staff treatment facilities.

This requires a level-headed, scientific approach informed by facts and research rather than the isolationist, xenophobic rhetoric that is coming out of too many American pundits. It is important that leading international actors, including the United States and the UK, have followed the advice of fact-driven experts rather than emotion and fear-driven crackpots.

Andrew Friedman is a human rights attorney and consultant who works and writes on legal reform and constitutional law with an emphasis on Africa. He can be reached via email at afriedm2@gmail.com or via twitter @AndrewBFriedman.