From what we can now see from the current Ebola outbreak it is unlikely to be contained in the foreseeable future. Already 1500 people have died in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal. Many who have died have not been reported or accounted; hence it is hard to have an accurate number of the dead. Additionally, an unknown number of people have been exposed to the Ebola virus, meaning many more will die, uncounted. The worst is yet to be revealed. How much further afield the virus will spread is anybody's guess.
What is certain is that millions in West Africa are terrorized and many of their governments are either paralyzed into inactivity. Or those who govern them are indifferent, holed up in their air-conditioned palaces.
It took the World Health Organization months before it seriously reacted to the outbreak. That was also true of our own US government and other Western governments. They have all looked at the latest outbreak with indifference and with a look not uncommon to the healthy and well to do as they look at the destitute. It reminds us that 20 million Africans with HIV/AIDS had to die before Western powers decided to take steps to reverse the fate of so many sick with HIV/AIDs.
Unlike the AIDs virus, the Ebola virus is much more dangerous and given the fear it strikes in the human heart can be compared to terrorism. It has the potential of actually being used by the terrorist groups that have filled the empty spaces left bereft of good governance. Which means that all Americans should be mindful of what is happening in Liberia and other West African countries. It could, like the Black Plague of the 14th century, lay waste large swathes of the West in a very short time. It is that serious and dangerous.
Ebola viral infections have been known by the Western medical world since the first cases were reported in Zaire, the present Congo, in 1976 when 88% of those infected died from Hemorrhagic Fever. The disease then, as in subsequent reincarnations was spread by close personal contact and by the use of contaminated needles and syringes in medical facilities. The second outbreak was in South Sudan in the same year - 1976. 151 people died from the infection.
There have been 24 outbreaks of the Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever since 1976, spread between the Congo in Central Africa and Senegal in West Africa. All of them have been in countries with one thing in common: poor governance and brutal corruption. These are countries where large amounts of foreign aid flow from Western governments and other agencies and much of the money earmarked for healthcare among other well-meaning purposes never sees the light of day. Little of what they were meant for is ever done. Sadly the objective of foreign donors is often not realized; much of the money is diverted into rulers' pockets.
As the current outbreak unfolds it points to the sad state of the infrastructure in the countries where it has taken root. Whose fault is it, one wonders? Is it the responsibility of local African governments? Or do the donor agencies and their governments bear some responsibility? How much of the responsibility to the present Ebola crisis do these donors and other Western agencies bear?
It is worthwhile looking back at what happened since 1976. As long as the Ebola outbreaks were limited to small areas across Africa, and only several hundred Africans died in anonymity, none of us were greatly concerned. Death of villagers in the depths of dark forested places in Africa had no significance to us in the civilized world. Sadly large sums of taxpayers' money, from USAID and other agencies, flow to governments, for healthcare needs, for construction and maintenance of hospitals in these countries, but as one knows, there has been little change since the 1976 Ebola outbreak in the Congo. Hospitals and new healthcare facilities are not built. Old ones are not maintained. Doctors and nurses are still a rarity in these places.
The Ebola virus as we now see is relentless. The widespread outbreak should make all of us pause and take a second look at how American taxpayers' dollars are spent. We must ask: are the results we expect for our investment actually realized? For instance a school converted into a USAID financed isolation Center in Monrovia, Liberia, lacked the most basic elements of healthcare - Aspirin, Tylenol for the relief of fever and pain, IV fluids, etc. One imagines that most of the American money meant for this place was diverted into other pockets as has happens over and over through the years of American foreign aid in Africa. Seeing this, the local Liberians set upon the school that had been converted into a bogus isolation center, attacking the personnel, spiriting away all the infected patients, and clearly increasing the likelihood of more Ebola deaths.
Yes, we must care for where our money goes. We must be aware that viruses, like HIV and Ebola, will not be limited to African forests but have the potential of spreading to Europe and North America. Wherever governments refuse to build healthcare infrastructure with our money, the possibility exists for new viral infections to break out. We must ask what good our money is doing and if it is saving lives and doing long lasting good.
We are today particularly aware of terrorism and are adept at fighting terrorists. We must also add viral outbreaks to terrorism since today a viral outbreak is but a plane ride away. Unless we are wiser than we have been so far it's but a matter of time before millions are at risk. We owe it to our children to see that there is better governance in Africa. Governments that build hospitals and train doctors and nurses for their people's healthcare are better than most on the continent.
Taxpayers' money must go into the hands of progressive institutions - with clear, calibrated purpose and expected results. Current USAID's practice is to shovel huge amounts of money to "traditional contractors" - old established groups whose one aim is to "unload the cash," no matter how it is used, no matter how ineffectual - as long as there is "good accounting." Original thought has no at USAID, an agency populated by folks with decades -old thought processes and many other such agencies. The US must align itself with enlightenment; not with the "usual" and corrupt regimes.
Failing the foregoing, or in addition to it, meaningful education has to become the one import from the US to Africa. If from 1976 the US and other Western nations had been determined to train as many doctors, nurses, chemists, engineers as possible, today's Ebola outbreak would have been much more limited. Even in the most corrupt states, no one can corrupt education in its most pure sense.
It is easy to spread blame for what transpired, and we who write are good at it. What we must all do is learn from the horrors that visit the human race, such as the present outbreak. Let's find ways to mitigate another outbreak, for it maybe as bad as the Black Plague of 1350s Europe.
Our mantra as a caring people must be: we want good governance in Africa. We want meaningful education in Africa; an education that will be effective in elevating generations of women as well as generations of scientists. We want our money to bring real change, not to satisfy some USAID contractor's bank account. If we pay for, we must have healthcare facilities that work and are regularly maintained. And we want African education to have real meaning by training physicians, virologists, other scientists and researchers. And wealth creators.
To do this, we must engage African countries and their leaders in a meaningful manner. This requires the American people to ask and get proper accounting from US representatives of substance and vision in places that might be tomorrow's epicenters of Ebola. To not do so will lead to more outbreaks. And who can say what other viruses the forest harbors. Who knows how fast they will travel to the Homeland next time?