17 Oct 2014

A dismal response to Ebola’s global spread

For those who might argue that the spread of Ebola lies in part because of the west’s failure to live up to international treaty obligations in terms of supporting health care in west Africa, there is now a double whammy in place.

The rest of the world seems unenthusiastic in helping out, even now that the outbreak has spread and spread beyond the shores of Africa.

The UN secretary general wants to raise $1bn globally for a fighting fund. Critically this will be used to fill gaps in care and prevention not yet being met by other endeavours – so it is far-sighted and vitally needed.

So far Colombia has paid $100,000. True, there are $32m pledged,  but the British and Americans appear equivocal and are requesting further information.

It is also true that both the US and UK are putting money into this crisis in other ways, of course.

But so far, in terms of hard cash, Mr Ban’s appeal is a dismal testament to  the feeling in some quarters that this is still all just a local difficulty in West Africa which will eventually blow itself out.

Crossing borders

With the WHO saying cases could be into 10,000 a week in the next two months and a million people affected into next year, that seems an unrealistic position to take.

Not least because Ebola is spreading. Not least because people are often disinclined to inform the authorities of their travel plans for fear of ….well what?

I speak from experience. Just yesterday, faced with the prospect of possibly travelling to the region, I informed my son’s school.

“We really appreciated you telling us,” said the school nurse over the phone, “most people don’t bother you know.”

“Eh?” I asked, somewhat taken aback.

“Oh yes. People think they are going to be punished in some way.”


Which is part of Barack Obama’s point. Faced with Republican pressure to “do something”, like ban people coming into the USA from the affected countries, (as Jamaica and Colombia have done this week) he has thus far declined.

And done so for the simple reason that people would simply stagger their journey to the USA, masking where they had been, which ultimately makes virus control more difficult and chaotic than it already is.

And it is chaotic. We have the infected US citizen getting on a plane. Another today with possible infection now quarantined in a cruise-ship cabin off Galveston, Texas having headed for the sun. Another possible case concerns doctors in Pristina hospital, Kosovo. Several possible cases are under watch in Spain. Cases remain under treatment in Germany and Norway.

This is the global world and it cannot be shut down. There is no real security from spreading the virus and the British move to start screening at Manchester and Birmingham airports today will do very little to change any of this.

And however clear the medical advice is – there are still vague and troubling areas. It is true that you are only infectious if you exhibit symptoms of flu-like fever. But if you feel ill at 5pm – what if you kissed your wife or the children at 4.15 pm – can you be sure they are ok?

Nobody has the answer to that definitively because there is no definitive answer.

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4 reader comments

  1. anon says:

    Its a strange world, or our thinking, feelings are skewed in some way. For good reason we have laws to punish those who discriminate say on the grounds of race while on the other hand thousands can be left to die because they are of the wrong colour and in the wrong place? This is not joined up thinking. It may well be that people here have a hard time, and are not cared for in a real way by those who govern us, and those who are not cared for can find it hard to care for others.

    People in Africa, people here, and everywhere need people to lead them who care

  2. Katie says:

    Doctors here in the UK who have tried to express their concerns regarding, the slow car crash they saw coming, for a very long time, in what is now being called “EBOLA” faced utter silence, from all sides of the government. Why ? These doctors have scientifically sound clinical information, which focuses on the root cause of this crisis, which, with tragic consequence, now affects, a vast number of innocent children and women. But proper steps were needed a very long time ago, to avert the situation we now have. Politicians, persistently denied physicians and clinicians their rightful role in this matter. Effectively shut them up. Had they not done so, the situation would be very different from what we now face. The so called EBOLA CRISIS, is not a political matter, but a grave humanitarian one.

  3. English Man Abroad says:

    It’s all very well to name and shame western governments for not fulfilling their “obligations” with respect to the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. But what about the response from within Africa itself? Africa is not a poor continent, it has vast natural resources and yet Africans constantly look to the West to sort out it’s problems for them. The apathy shown by the rest of the World to the plight of those Ebola stricken countries is the price that Africa must pay for decades of it’s own poor governance.

    The troops which the USA and UK have sent to the region have 2 missions. In the first instance they are there to provide medical support to try and contain the outbreak. If/when that primary mission fails their secondary task will be to secure the affected area, close down airports, blockade ports, form road blocks. That probably won’t work either, but when has that ever stopped the Americans from sending in the troops?

  4. Philip Edwards says:


    I feel nothing but shame for the way this disaster has been dealt with by Western governments – the same governments who take a few weeks to mobilise billions worth of warmongering and mass killing.

    Is there anything worse than seeing innocent humanity wiped out in an avoidable horror? Is this what we call Western “civilisation”?

    Do you wonder why resentment of the West turns to homicidal lunacy amongst the more imbalanced victims of Western wilful ignorance?

    In such circumstances those Westerners who do get to the affected areas are real heroes, the very best. But it could have been so much better and saved so many more lives.

    Shame on ALL the Western governments and their apologists. And don’t think this tragedy will be forgotten in African folklore.

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