The tragic death of the first person diagnosed with Ebola inside the US breaks a psychological barrier for the developed world. Certainly, we understood Westerners could die of Ebola, but we also had faith those afflicted with Ebola would be saved if they could just access our resource rich healthcare system. Although the Peoples of developed countries certainly feel compassion for the Peoples of Africa who have long lived in fear of an Ebola outbreak, the lethal pathogen has always been regarded as a disease of poor countries.
Considering the conspiracy theories and misinformation inside Africa surrounding Ebola, which has lead to people hiding infected relatives, angry residents “freeing” Ebola patients from holding centers, and attacks on healthcare workers the Peoples of Africa clearly see Ebola differently than their Western counterparts. Despite the reality that research takes time, the willingness of the developed world to try the experimental Ebola treatment ZMapp only once a Western doctor was inflected with Ebola cannot possibly sit well in the minds of Africans.
Meanwhile, the fact that the news of the first person in Spain to be diagnosed with Ebola was followed up with a story on her dog being euthanized to prevent the potential spread of the disease underscores the true divide between Africans and the developed world. The killing of the dog is sad, but the tragedy of an animal being slaughtered to prevent the potential spread of Ebola has nothing to do with whether or not the animal is someone’s beloved pet.
In Africa, such a sacrifice could cost the owners of the animal their livelihood, but it would be a sacrifice worth making. The fact that the dog story actually made it into the international newsfeeds, even though the names of Ebola victims throughout Africa have never been heard by the outside world, demonstrates how the West has viewed Ebola as fascinating news to be feared, almost like we were watching a horror movie for fun.
Clearly, the fiction is now becoming reality for the developed world. Westerns have watched news of Africans irrationally denying the existence of Ebola and attacking healthcare workers for supposedly spreading the disease. While we have largely blamed their counterproductive reactions on a lack of education, human nature is also a large factor. When feeling vulnerable, people find ways to feel secure. Where humans lock their doors at night to feel safe from intruders, defense mechanisms like denial, aggression towards others, and acting out to feel in control offer people security when we are afraid.
While the medical community has been warning of the hazards associated with locking down travel into countries afflicted with Ebola, growing fears that Ebola will spread to the rest of the world is only going to add political pressure to do just that, even if it means allowing Ebola to spread throughout Africa unchecked. Given the economic damage to West Africa alone could reach 33 billion dollars, Ebola represents another devastating obstacle for developing African nations to overcome in order to build the civil infrastructure needed to prevent and better address such catastrophes.
Meanwhile, the more Ebola blankets the news, the more Westerners will draw analogies to events like the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic. Because N1H1 started in Mexico and spread around the world thanks to our international transient system, people are going to push for more and more restriction on travels from Africa as testing for symptoms of Ebola once someone has returned from an Ebola infested nation is insufficient. Although the influenza killed somewhere between 150, 000 to 600,000 people in 2009 because N1H1 is spread through the air, unlike Ebola, the high mortality rate and horrid symptoms of the hemorrhagic fever make the threat of Ebola far more serious in the minds of the untrained.
With that in mind, our embrace of globalization and efforts to accelerate the process have also failed to address the costs of doing so in regard to disease. First, Ebola has been able to spread throughout Africa due to increased mobility throughout the enormous continent while globalization without sufficient development of healthcare infrastructure around the world means Ebola has the incubator and infrastructure it needs to spread to the world. Second, Ebola reveals the fragility of the global economy, which can bring capital to impoverished parts of the world, yet cannot safeguard the world from contagions. Where the Great Recession involved the spread of financial contagions, the Ebola outbreak could prove even more devastating to mankind.
The Clinton-era vision for globalization essentially said economies should be built to service global demand with each country offering a selection of specialized goods. National economies must, however, be built on industries that serve the local needs of a people with locally plentiful resources that are as local as possible with excess production being used to participate in the global economy. Because global economy is not constructed in this fashion, efforts to contain Ebola to specific nation will cause unnecessary damage to these already weak economies.
Moreover, the Western way of dealing with disease is to throw enough resources at it until it goes away. Sadly, Ebola may be one of those diseases that must run its tragic course. As such, the only true option is to prevent the spread of the pathogen by isolating the infected. Because this approach to containment is failing, the next step is to isolate those nations where the disease is running rampant. Keeping in mind that self-imposed isolation by the governments of Ebola riddled countries is likely the only viable option, the International Community must seek to control borders in order to allow the passage of medical aid while finding ways to blunt the economic harm done by isolation.
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