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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