Oct. 20 — Several United States congressional representatives have called for a ban on travel into the U.S. from the three West African states which have been the most severely impacted by the recent Ebola Virus Disease outbreak. These proposals demanded that President Barack Obama prohibit travelers from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia from entering the U.S.
Obama, along with many corporate interests, has rejected a travel ban. The corporate press have reported that the EVD outbreak has reportedly killed in excess of 4,500 people, infected more than 9,000, and all three West African states and others in the region have experienced significant losses in humanitarian assistance, trade and tourism.
Congressional hearings on the Ebola outbreak have degenerated into nonproductive discussions — ignoring measures that emphasize the need to attack the disease and bring about its eradication.
Defend health care workers
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tried to place blame on two Ebola-stricken nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, for not following protocols in treating Thomas Eric Duncan, who is the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. But they have been refuted by National Nurses United through demonstrations, daily press releases, interviews and media conferences. The NNU sees safety of health care workers as a critical issue.
Administrators at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., publicly criticized nurses there, saying they were stoking fear among patients and other employees when they petitioned management to implement basic medical guidelines for handling Ebola cases. The facility’s nurses are not officially represented by the California Nurses Association, a NNU affiliate.
The NNU noted in an Oct. 17 press release, “St. Joseph RNs were appalled at management’s reaction to their petition. First, the hospital allowed supervisors, and other RNs who don’t do direct patient care, to stage a protest on hospital property with signs saying ‘shame on CNA for preying on fear.’ Second, the hospital administration issued a statement to the press — without responding to employees’ concerns — claiming they are ‘prepared to deal with infectious diseases’ and attacking the nurses’ union for using ‘scare tactics’ to ‘address labor issues.’” (nationalnursesunited.org)
Despite the calls for travel bans and other measures that would stigmatize West African expatriate communities, the relatives, workers and students who had contact with Duncan have come out of the 21-day quarantine period without contracting EVD. The first contacts were cleared on Oct. 20, and another round of contacts should be cleared by Nov. 7.
No further cases have been announced since nurse Vinson’s diagnosis in Dallas. She is being treated at a specialized unit at Emory University Hospital, while Pham is in a similar unit at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
October 20 reports speculated about the health status of Pham’s fiancé, who is being monitored for EVD symptoms. His employer issued a statement saying he has not been diagnosed with the disease, and his fellow employees were not endangered, reported the International Business Times.
The struggle in West Africa continues
In West Africa, Senegal and Nigeria successfully isolated and eliminated Ebola in both those countries. Senegal reportedly had only one case, even though it shares a border with Guinea-Conakry, one of the most severely affected states.
“On Friday [Oct. 17], [World Health Organization] officials declared that the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Senegal was over” and noted in a press release that Senegal’s approach was “a good example of what to do when faced with an imported case of Ebola.” WHO noted, “The government’s response plan included identifying and monitoring 74 close contacts of the patient, prompt testing of all suspected cases, stepped-up surveillance at the country’s many entry points and nationwide public awareness campaigns.” (Associated Press, Oct. 20)
Early in October, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan declared the country Ebola-free. WHO agreed with this assessment. WHO’s director in Nigeria, Rui Gama Baz, called it “a spectacular success story” at a press conference in the political capital of Abuja on Oct. 20 “The outbreak in Nigeria has been contained.” Nonetheless, he warned in the same AP article, “We must be clear that we only won a battle. The war will only end when West Africa is also declared free of Ebola.”
Nigeria’s outbreak began in July, when a Liberian-American development consultant, Patrick Sawyer, collapsed in the Lagos airport. Many believed he had traveled to Nigeria to seek health treatment. He eventually died there. Nigeria later reported eight deaths and nearly 20 cases. Schools were closed throughout the country until the nation’s health system decided the threat had subsided.
Focus should be on fighting disease, global aid
Other countries, such as Liberia, remain in the grip of the outbreak. This West African state has had more than 2,200 EVD deaths since March. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s “Letter to the World” appealed for international assistance to treat patients and to eradicate the disease there. The current situation “requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help — whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise. We all have a stake in the battle against Ebola. It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves.” (BBC, Oct. 19)
The Obama administration has deployed troops to Liberia, ostensibly to assist in building field hospitals. However, this is part of a general escalation of military interventions in West Africa through the U.S. Africa Command.
On Oct. 17, Guinea’s President Alpha Conde emphasized on Ebola Deeply (“a collaborative news and information platform designed to tell the full story of the Ebola outbreak”) the need for education about the virus’ transmission and the significant role of traditional leaders in the battle to eliminate the disease. He rejected the imposition of travel bans related to the most severely impacted states, saying that the place to fight EVD is in West Africa itself.
“My message is clear: we need to fight on three fronts,” said Conde. “First, we must address the acute health crisis by containing the virus until it is gone. Second, after we have vanquished the virus, we must make sure it doesn’t come back. However, the underlying solutions are clearly related to the overall development of Guinea and the entire region,” Conde stressed. “That’s why we also need to invest in our health-care systems. Third, we must stop the economic contraction that the virus has caused.”
These objectives will be difficult to achieve in light of the prevailing international division of economic power and distribution. The most severely impacted West African states are largely dependent on the capitalist markets to sell strategic minerals and natural resources, such as gold, bauxite and rubber as their principal means of generating foreign exchange.
Until Africa can retain the wealth produced by its land and people, there will be no long-term solutions to the problems associated with providing health care and social services to the majority of working people, farmers and youth. Lessons can be learned from socialist Cuba, which has been able to produce medical personnel and a health care system that is lauded internationally — despite having endured at 55-year U.S. blockade.
Cuba is on the frontlines in West Africa combating the Ebola pandemic. The Cuban health workers are setting a sterling example for underdeveloped and developed states to emulate.