I am worried about Ebola. It is rapidly spinning out of control.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a four-year old African child whose mother is dying of Ebola and I can not hug her or comfort her as she is dragged off by people looking like space travellers. I can not imagine what it is like to be a health care worker in a facility where there is no clean water supply, limited resources and few beds and knowing that just touching someone who is infected to provide care for them or make them more comfortable is risking my own life.
It annoys me somewhat when I see the panicked response of the U.S. or Spain when they get one case that is treated in health care systems that have funding many, many times that of the West African countries that are struggling to manage it. When the outbreak affects thousands in Liberia, far away, the response is muted. When one person in North America is treated with it, the response is a cascade of protective efforts, likely costing billions in the long run. I am not saying this is wrong, just imbalanced and so self-absorbed.
It frustrates me to know that the international community has dragged their feet in responding to this outbreak … until it becomes obvious that, with international travel, it is only a matter of time that the disease reaches us. It worries me that other African countries will soon be at risk and that their health care systems will do their best, but are woefully inadequate to cope with the anticipated exponential spread of this virus. It troubles me to know that economies in many African countries, already struggling with poverty, will be decimated. Tourism is a major source of income. What traveller is going to pick an African vacation for their family with all this negative press and uncertainty?
When I graduated from medical school in 1974 there was no AIDS. Well, there were a few cases, scattered somewhere, but we didn’t know about it. Now millions have been infected and died of AIDS and although we have medications to manage it, we do not have a cure, nor effective immunization against it. Will Ebola be the next AIDS? Or worse?
What can we do about it? What can I do about it? So far the Canadian government has allocated about 5-6 million dollars to this crisis. They have also just approved an air bombing campaign in Iraq of undetermined cost but with estimates of 100 million dollars or more. It costs close to $17,000 per hour to operate a CF-18 and each JDAM-equipped bomb that is dropped costs about $25,000. Can we get our priorities straight? Or at least balance them? How do we influence these decisions?
I have worked for the past five years to help to provide infrastructure improvements for schools, clinics and communities in East Africa through the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Will this be at all helpful if Ebola spreads eastward in Africa? I would like to think it will help. Education about spread of the disease and protection from it is essential to avoid infection and schools are a resource to help with that. CanAssist has supported clinics in several communities and has provided improved water and sanitation to communities and schools. Hopefully this will help if the need arises. Without adequate sanitation or access to clean water, how can anyone avoid contamination? CanAssist’s work involves only a few communities – we have limited resources despite a never-ending need. But hopefully, by preparing some communities a bit with infrastructure to help manage any possible outbreak (of Ebola or any other health threat) we can, in fact, save a few lives.
I plan to return to East Africa early in 2015. In addition to continuing to monitor and support new and existing projects through CanAssist (at no cost to our donors, by the way) I will be thinking about helping to provide some medical information about Ebola to the communities that I visit in preparation for what I fervently hope does not happen there. I have often felt that if Africa was educated about HIV/AIDS early on that this scourge would not have taken hold the way it did. Maybe with some warning and information, countries neighbouring those currently affected by Ebola can prepare to prevent it from engulfing in their communities. Not a panicked, emergency response but a practical preparation for a possible threat. It is worth a try.
“If I am only for myself, then what am I? And, if not now, when?” Rabbi Hillel, 50 BC