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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Yuan: Wrongful Response

Anyone in America connected to the Internet now knows about Ebola; media outlets have tracked the disease in the U.S. nonstop for the past few weeks. With this continued media attention, Ebola has been portrayed to the general public as easily infectious and deadly. But this focus on Ebola in the U.S. is completely disproportionate to the amount of U.S. cases.

So far, there have been only two confirmed cases of Ebola in the U.S. The most recent case was confirmed this Sunday. The patient, a nurse who had contact with the first Ebola patient in America, is currently in stable condition, the Guardian reported. This raises two points — one, that Ebola has not spread nearly as much in America as media outlets would have us believe, and two, that Ebola is not nearly as deadly as we may think, especially when hospitals have the resources to combat it.

So why are we so worried about Ebola in America? Media reports — especially those from news outlets, both reputable and not — play a large role in increasing knowledge of Ebola. But they also increase unreasonable worry about the disease here. We should instead move our attention away from Ebola in America in favor of focusing on the most heavily affected countries: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This common-sense approach, as health officials have been saying in recent days, would contain Ebola at its source.

Some may argue that we shouldn’t worry about Ebola, a disease that has killed fewer than 4,000 people in this outbreak, and should instead focus on other, more deadly diseases — cancer, AIDS, malaria. Some also argue that we shouldn’t focus on faraway countries that we have little connection with when we could be fixing our own issues. For one, we should help fight it simply because we have the knowledge to prevent it from spreading. As World Bank president and former College President Jim Yong Kim said, “The knowledge and infrastructure to treat the sick and contain the virus exists in high and middle-income countries. However, over many years, we have failed to make these things accessible to low-income people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.” We have the ethical responsibility to fight Ebola.

But beyond pure altruism, we should help because it is in danger of becoming a pandemic that affects rest of the world, including highly developed countries. This outbreak involves urban areas where public health is generally lower and population density is higher. Now that it has moved into urban areas, Ebola also has a much larger chance of spreading. With this in mind, it is in everyone’s interest to contain Ebola now in the countries it is affecting most, before it spreads out of control. How would we contain it? The most effective short-term solution would be to provide them with necessary resources. As a disease, Ebola does not have to be fatal. Appropriate and timely attention can considerably lower the fatality rate. However, as global health expert Paul Farmer noted in The Washington Post, some resources are simply insufficient. As Farmer said, West Africa is short on gloves and oral rehydration fluid, Liberia’s hospitals needs diesel fuel and health workers, clinics and hospitals are in short supply.

Building up infrastructure in urban centers — to build better water supplies, sanitation services, even working toilets — will best address the poverty that allows Ebola to spread and will prevent future outbreaks of Ebola and other diseases.

As a matter of policy and ethics, we should not focus so much on Ebola in the U.S. The disease is containable here, and excess attention on its rare occurrence distracts attention from where it belongs — in the regions where it originates and the less developed countries it affects most severely.