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Friday, October 10, 2014

The Ebola Pandemic...The Promise And Peril Of A Connected World

Ebola outbreak 'running' ahead of world's response: UN official

Initial responses to the outbreak of HIV/AIDS were hampered by the stigmatization and discrimination that went with the assumption that it was an affliction of gay men and intravenous drug users. In fact the condition came to be called GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency). With the prevailing historical prejudices against these groups, the Reagan Administration of the time was notoriously slow in initiating and funding an evidenced based approach to dealing with what became an international public health crisis.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compared this Ebola outbreak to the AIDS epidemic. This week politicians in Washington have been haggling about the allocation of appropriate monies to mount an effective response to this epidemic. According to the CDC Ebola has already infected over 8,000 and counting, with casualties passing the 4,000 mark as of today. Countries with widespread infection are listed as Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa.

There is no wishing away the horror that is Ebola. There are no safe borders from the tragedy that this epidemic brings in its wake. The death of a Liberian national in Texas this week brings this tragedy to our very doorsteps. We no longer have the vain luxury of thinking that this is just a problem for some people "over there". Efforts to othercize and ostracize the victims of this terrible disease will come back to haunt us.

We live in a world that continues to shrink. Air travel now makes intercontinental and international contact a matter of hours away instead of days and months. The barriers of time and space are reduced daily by technologies that bring home the fact that we are more and more "a village" in terms of how we affect, and are affected, by each other's lives...and deaths. It is time for us to start to truly act as neighbors. The fact is, we protect ourselves by acting in the best interests of others in our global village.

When a  Liberian shows up in the Emergency Room of a Texas hospital describing in himself the symptoms of a deadly disease we must stop and take notice. It no longer matters whether or not he looks or sounds like us. It matters not whether he has health insurance. What matters is that we give him the attention due to a fellow human being... A fellow villager. To give this person some Tylenol and some antibiotics and send him home with a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit is uncaring to say the least.

In the face of the perils of a death-bearing condition, we are obliged to keep the promise of our common humanity. That promise dictates that we treat each other as we ourselves would want to be treated. To neglect to do so for any reason, is to bring upon ourselves the same fate that beset those we carelessly brush aside.

In the fight against the spread of disease we emphasize the use of what we call Universal Precautions. Proper hand washing, the use of gloves, the wearing of protective cloaks and masks, and appropriate isolation of infected persons are all part of this. These measures are intended to protect both patients and their caregivers. As in the case of AIDS, our responses to this epidemic may be influenced by inappropriate cultural attitudes to its initial victims. With that in mind we should begin this fight by washing our hands of the cultural insensitivity that besets us. Ultimately it is the "cloak" of genuine concern that will protect us all from the threats of a proven devastating disease.

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