By Richard Knox
At the memorial service last weekend for the only person to have died of Ebola on American soil, the Liberian clergyman who eulogized his countryman Thomas Eric Duncan posed a question we all should be thinking hard about right now.
“Where did Ebola come from to destroy people — to set behind people who were already behind?” Methodist Bishop Arthur F. Kulah wondered.
Here’s the reality: Until the world (and especially the United States of America) refocus on the “people who were already behind” in this battle of virus-versus-humanity, no one can rest easy.
Ebola is an animal virus that has sporadically caused local human outbreaks in Africa for at least 38 years. But now it has crossed into people who live in densely populated African nations with barely functioning health systems and daily jet connections to the rest of the planet.
This is entirely predictable, as scientists who watch emerging diseases have long known. They just didn’t know which virus would be the next to terrorize the world. (SARS and HIV showed how it can happen, remember?)
Those of us who, like me, report on global public health have a sense of inevitability as we watch the Ebola crisis unfold. We always knew it would mostly affect, as Bishop Kulah so aptly puts it, “people who were already behind.”
And we knew the people least affected by this scourge — privileged denizens of wealthier countries — would overreact out of misplaced fear for themselves, rather than a reasoned and compassionate understanding about what needs to be done.
So we see the freaked-out, wall-to-wall, feedback-loop media coverage we’re experiencing now. Schools closing down in Ohio for completely unnecessary disinfection. Recriminations against hapless health workers who suddenly find themselves dealing with an exotic new threat. Continue reading