Ebola and the Need for Reasonable Discourse
On Wednesday, October, 8, 2014, the first person diagnosed with Ebola on American soil expired. A recent transplant from Monrovia, Liberia, one of the four African countries struggling to contain the epidemic, the deceased cared for and transported to a Liberian hospital an expectant woman who died shortly thereafter.
According to the on-line report from CNN Health entitled, “Back in Liberia, Ebola is Killing Duncan’s Neighbors, “there is a mounting death toll of all those who came in contact with the woman…. Already nine others are dead or dying and all the neighbors have been quarantined.
The deceased immediately flew from Africa to Dallas, TX, arriving in the United States on September 20, 2014. He exhibited no symptoms before or during the flight. However, he lied on an airport screening questionnaire stating that he had no contact with any Ebola patients prior to the flight.
Six days later he checked himself into the emergency room of Texas Presbyterian Hospital complaining of abdominal pain and a slight fever. He advised hospital personnel that he had recently been in Africa but made no mention of his exposure to the virus. He was treated with antibiotics and released, contrary to guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Two days later he returned by ambulance with unmistakable symptoms of Ebola.
Nationally recognized civil rights leaders, local politicians and family/friends of the deceased have alleged racism; that the deceased was maltreated due to his status as an African man. Others have offered conspiracy theories ranging from “Ebola is a man-made disease”, to “they let him die to deter others like him from coming to America”, to “this is an act of biological terrorism.” Politicians have used the crises to advance the anti-immigration agenda to “shut down the border” and a commentator on FOX News said that“we (America) can’t let them (Africans), in because they seek medical treatment from witch doctors.”
We admit that anything is possible and have no personal knowledge of the situation. Still, we see no evidence of racism, foul play or conspiracy. Moreover, at the risk of being perceived as “blaming the victim” the deceased is not without fault.
He may not have known that he was infected when he left Liberia. But he certainly knew he had been exposed to the virus. He was after all at ground zero for the disease and all around him people were sick and dying.
Reasoning that he would have a better chance of survival in America than Liberia, he left his country of residence as quickly as possible, determined to conceal his exposure to the virus. So in order to board the plane, he lied on the airport screening questionnaire. He also lied when he boarded another plane at the lay over in Brussels, Belgium.
When he arrived in the states, he failed to inform the authorities of his condition. He did tell his family, friends or any one else he came in contact with, including children of the risk he posed. Nor did he inform the hospital of his condition during his visit to the emergency room at which time he surely knew he was infected. It was at this point if no other that the deceased had an affirmative duty to reveal his status as a potential carrier of the disease.
We understand the fear, panic and lapse in judgment that can be occasioned by a crisis situation. However, the intentional failure to reveal that which must be disclosed cannot be condoned. The same applies to the belief that self survival justifies putting all others at risk, especially when dealing with a potential pandemic.
The situation here is little different from the HIV/AIDS crisis. One cannot knowingly share a needle or have unprotected sex with a person afflicted by HIV/AIDS and then claim ignorance about the possibility of also being infected. And having been exposed, one cannot share a needle or have intimate contact with others and then shun responsibility for spreading the disease. A second person in Dallas, one of the medical personnel who treated the deceased has now been diagnosed with the virus.
As to the issue of racism, even if the deceased should have been hospitalized during his emergency room visit, both he and his family have been the beneficiaries of significant public assistance. Said assistance includes but is not limited to the initial treatment and subsequent hospitalization of the deceased, the medial services provided to the family and the detoxification of their apartment as well as the provision of a temporary residence.
In all probability, neither the deceased nor his family has paid a dime for this assistance. Rather, it is the public who is left to pick up the tab.
Nor is there evidence that the deceased was intentionally denied life saving medication. Not only was this crisis completely unexpected, it was the first and only time local authorities have faced the virus. Hence, availability rather than racial animus may have been a factor here. And it can not be forgotten that others have contracted the disease and died absent the particular treatment.
Lastly, neither racism nor nationalism have prevented the sending of scores of troops, advisers, doctors, nurses, equipment and supplies to Africa in order to build medical facilities, treat the sick and halt the spread of the disease. The same is true of other nations. This is a far cry from any ‘ism” of which we are aware.
In conclusion, we are saddened by the loss of the deceased and offer our condolences to his family. But we have yet to uncover any evidence of ethnic bias or sinister conspiracy. The worst thing we can do is to inject racism, foul play and conspiracy to an already existing tragedy. To our untrained eye and without more, these charges are unfair and uncalled for.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum