Ebola hits U.S. amid charges of racism

Thomas Eric Duncan died on Oct. 8 at a Dallas hospital from the Ebola virus. He had traveled to Dallas from his home country of Liberia to see friends and family members.

Duncan’s family is asking why he did not receive optimal care from the first day he sought treatment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, and are charging bias. They are posing troubling questions about his treatment.

Additionally, the Liberian community in Texas is inquiring if Duncan was treated differently “because he was African and not only that, he was Liberian,” said Stanley Gaye, president of the Liberian Community Association of Dallas/Fort Worth. (ABC News, Oct. 9)

Why was Duncan discharged from the hospital on Sept. 25, after he first visited the emergency room complaining of severe pain and other symptoms? Why wasn’t his statement transmitted to doctors that he had just arrived from Liberia, in Western Africa, the location of the deadly Ebola epidemic, where 4,000 have recently died.

Initially, hospital staff blamed computer glitches for why doctors did not know Duncan’s travel history. Records said he did not have Ebola symptoms. The hospital later stated that the electronic records were functioning correctly and that information was posted for the medical team, but did not explain the mistakes. Meanwhile, Duncan was supplied with antibiotics and discharged to a home inhabited by four adults and children.

Why did the hospital say that Duncan’s temperature was 100.1 degrees during his initial visit, when medical records obtained by his nephew, Josephus Weeks, stated that his fever at that time was an alarming 103 degrees? High fever is an Ebola symptom.

Three days later, Duncan was rushed back to the hospital in an ambulance and was quarantined.

Duncan’s family, their supporters and the Liberian community in Dallas say that not hospitalizing him immediately allowed him to get sicker. He reportedly was so ill on Sept. 25, the date of his initial hospital visit, that he left the hospital on a stretcher. Weeks said his uncle was “handled poorly, unfairly and an injustice was done.” (New York Times, Oct. 11)

Duncan’s discharge countered U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regulations requiring Ebola quarantine. Relatives said they called the CDC to report Duncan’s illness.

Racism involved

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.,Weeks, and Duncan’s mother, Nowai Gartay, asked why he was not taken to specialty units at the Nebraska Medical Center or at Emory University Hospital, where the U.S. citizens stricken with Ebola this year were taken.

They ask why Duncan was not immediately put on an experimental drug after he was hospitalized. The other U.S. Ebola patients were given ZMapp, TKM-Ebola or brincidofovir. It is unknown if the drugs aided in their recovery, but Duncan’s family asserts that he too should have been given medication immediately.

Weeks told CNN that he and his relatives had to push the hospital to file an application with the Food and Drug Administration to approve brincidofovir for Duncan. “Weeks and Jackson said they believe the hospital applied for permission to use brincidofovir only after Jackson gave out the hospital’s phone number on his radio show last week and urged listeners to call in and complain,” said CNN Health on Oct. 7, in an article entitled, “Dallas Ebola patient waited nearly a week for experimental drug; family claims bias.”

The article states that the hospital would not tell CNN the date they requested FDA approval, which is required to obtain experimental drugs from the manufacturer, to use brincidofovir. The agency says it gives permission within hours for Ebola drugs.

Even after Duncan’s death, insensitivity continued. Duncan’s mother, Gartay, said that the hospital did not tell her that her son had died when she called, only that she could not talk to him.

There are charges of racism in the hospital’s treatment of Duncan. His family says his care was at best “incompetent” and at worst “racially motivated.” (wgntv.com, Oct. 11) Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who is African American, stressed that Duncan’s nationality and lack of insurance “prevented him from getting better treatment.” (newsmax, Oct. 9)

Duncan’s poor treatment and subsequent death demonstrate the need for a health care system that guarantees the best treatment for all, regardless of income, insurance or immigration status. One based on human need — not profits — with compassion, respect and dignity for patients, their families and communities.