You know people are panicking when the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines Ebola with the phrase, “the risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the U.S. is very low.” Or at least, people were panicking. Just a few weeks ago, every headline and mid-term election commercial involved the threat of Ebola. Americans have never been so paranoid about Ebola invading the U.S., and I say “never have” because Ebola is not new. The first Ebola outbreak was in 1976, over 30 years ago. It makes you wonder why we were so completely unprepared to tackle Ebola this time around.
The CDC wrote that Ebola is only spread through “direct contact with blood and body fluids of a person infected by and already showing symptoms of Ebola. Ebola is not spread through the air, water, food, or mosquitoes.” Meaning that Ebola is unlikely to rampantly spread outside of West Africa, especially in countries like the U.S. that has the resources to effectively handle Ebola. The fear that led to closing schools and mandatory quarantines has rightly dissipated. Unfortunately, the concern and determination over fighting Ebola in West Africa never seemed to affect U.S. citizens. According to the World Health Organization, Ebola has killed over 5,000 people living in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Meanwhile, food prices in Liberia have skyrocketed because farmers, terrified of the virus, abandoned their fields while other countries, similarly worried, shut down exports. In a nation where the United Nations Development Programme reports 84 percent of the population lives off of US $1.25 a day, food prices constitute a second crisis. Sierra Leone, recovering from a decade-long civil war, lacks the health infrastructure and resources to contain or cure Ebola (the World Bank recorded that from 2009-2013, Sierra Leone spent US $96 on healthcare per capita; compare that with $8,895 per capita spent by the U.S. in the same time period). The Heritage Foundation found that in Guinea, the average citizen makes $1,120 per year.
“If a mechanism is not found,” Samaritan’s Purse vice president of governmental relations Ken Isaacs warned Congress in August, “to create an acceptable paradigm for the international community to become directly involved, then the world will be relegating the containment of [Ebola] to three of the poorest nations in the world.”
And yet, in 1976, Ebola was contained after 602 cases and only 431 deaths. In 1995, the count reached a mere 315 infected and 254 deaths. In 2000: 425 cases, 224 deaths. In 2007 — only 7 years ago — there were 413 cases and another 425 deaths. The international community has and can contain Ebola. Health care experts emphasize that the surest method to protect ourselves is to contain Ebola at the heart of the outbreak. We should not leave Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea to battle Ebola alone this time around.