Ebola and the real health crisis

Taken from an Oct. 15 audio column at prisonradio.org

With the death of Mr. Thomas Eric Duncan shortly after his arrival from Liberia, West Africa, the Ebola crisis has burst onto millions of news screens, generating deep levels of fear and xenophobia.

To be sure, Ebola is a serious health concern, for it has a 70 percent mortality rate. (The African term, “Ebola,” named for a river in Congo after the first known outbreak in 1976, evokes the fear and anxiety of the foreign, but it is a tropical disease best known as hemorrhagic fever, where internal organs and systems break down, leading to massive bleeding.)

But, to beat back the fear, public officials have been playing down the threats posed by the virus, often armed with little more than hope and false confidence.

For politics, often more imagery than reality, is a poor barrier against the seriousness of viruses, disease and death.

This isn’t about the Ebola crisis. It’s about the American health care crisis, made possible by a flawed business model that prioritizes profit above all other things: even life itself.

Consider this: When Mr. Duncan first entered Texas Presbyterian Hospital, he was interviewed by a screener, prescribed antibiotics and sent home. That person (the screener), was, more likely than not, not a medically trained, health care professional, but a receptionist, perhaps armed with a checklist to cover.

Chances are she or he was perhaps the lowest-paid staff member, until one considers the janitorial workers.

This business model, one followed by most institutions in America, is now exposed as ineffective, dangerous and the least health-conscious.

That was a business decision, driven by the bottom line of money — not life.

Similarly, the recent crisis has exposed how vulnerable nurses are in this system, for business perceives them as less valuable than doctors. Hence, they are paid less, trained less, protected less and worked more.

Who spends more time with ailing patients, doctors or nurses? Who has the closest physical contact with patients? But according to published accounts, nurses had their necks exposed and when they complained, were told to use tape to cover up.

This is a system that protects profits and prestige, not people! For doctors get the most protection — nurses, the least.

When this latest Ebola outbreak first struck West Africa, the U.S. mobilized soldiers to go there. Cuba, which has advanced biotechnical medical experience with tropical diseases, sent over 1,000 doctors to help heal people.

Cuba, little socialist Cuba, has sent over 135,000 health care professionals to 154 countries, more than the United Nations’ World Health Organization.

Their Latin American Medical School in Havana trains thousands of poor medical students from all over the world — for free!

Not much of a business model.  But one hell of a human model.