Marked Ebola Retreat In West Africa A Victory For Public Health – And Democracy (February 2, 2015)

Ebola

What a difference just a few months can make. Last weekend writer Morimitsu Onishi of The New York Times published a piece entitled, “As Ebola Ebbs in Africa, Focus Turns From Death to Life.” The article reveals the stunning fact that “new Ebola cases in Liberia, where streets were littered with the dead just a few months ago, now number in the single digits, according to the World Health Organization.”

The very next day, the Times ran a companion story, “Ebola Drug Trial Is Halted for Lack of Patients.” Given the rampant media hysteria that ran roughshod over the nation’s political discourse less than three months ago, the developments are nothing short of miraculous. From dangerous pandemic to virtually neutralized, the retreat of the Ebola threat is something we can come together to celebrate in a bipartisan way. Well…almost all of us.

With immigration reform scheduled to remain a hot button topic in the United States for the remainder of 2015, retired Georgia physician and Republican House member Phil Gingrey will need to find a new way to stoke his constituency’s fear of brown people. You may recall that Gingrey gave a July 2014 interview toNBC News’ Luke Russert, in which he said, “The border patrol gave us a list of the diseases that they’re concerned about, and Ebola was one of those…I can’t tell you specifically that there were any cases of Ebola, I don’t think there were, but of course Tuberculosis, Chagas disease, many – small pox, some of the infectious diseases of children, all of these are concerns.”

The fact that Ebola never existed in Central America proved no deterrent to Gingrey’s hate mongering.

Then in October 2014, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson dumbed down the dialogue a little further by suggesting that terrorist group ISIS was using Ebola-infected patients as weapons of war. In a nearly commendable use of negatives to put forth an insane idea as accepted, Johnson told Newsmax TV, “You really don’t even want to think about, you really don’t even want to talk about, but we should do everything possible to defend ourselves against that possibility because I think that is a real and present danger.”

And while it’s clear that no one really listens to her anymore, Sarah Palin demonstrated that Ebola hysteria and stupidity are not the exclusive purview of the white male wing of the GOP. Writing an “open, verbal letter (huh?)” to President Obama, the former Alaskan Governor called for swift and immediate “invasionary” action” against the disease. As though Ebola were just a rogue US territory that could be subdued through artillery.

For most sane people, news of Ebola’s ebb is a welcome delight, the more so because it has been a democratic phenomenon, a win for public health, a triumph of information and a symbol of what strained communities can accomplish when they work together. As Onishi writes, “While many have emphasized the enormous assistance hauled into the region by the United States and international organizations, there is strong evidence, especially here in Monrovia, that the biggest change came from the precautions taken by residents themselves.”

It’s a watershed, revolutionary idea for the doggedly interventionist faction of the Republican Party. Maybe, just maybe our “leadership (heavy handed military action)” in every global crisis is not necessary to its resolution. We contributed badly needed funds and expertise, certainly. But a quick review of the quotes above is more than enough to suggest that America’s politically motivated contributions to the conversation often lack helpfulness (to understate things just a bit).

Congratulations are in order to every civic leader, health professional (many of them American) and citizen who has worked to eradicate the threat of Ebola from the daily lives of people in Liberia, Sierre Leone and Guinea. Schools are reopening and the streets safer for human interaction. There are many lessons to be learned from the crisis, and fortunately, we have the benefit of the recency effect. Paranoid talk is cheap and dangerous.

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