Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ebola: Politicizing and Fear Mongering


Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am, Stuck in the middle with you.”  And that is how I feel again this week. 

This week two politically-focused state governors, Democrat Andrew Cuomo of New York and Republican Chris Christie ignored federal guidance and guidelines and imposed their own 21 day quarantine policies for all those returning from Ebola-stricken West African countries.  Cuomo, specifically has been trying to have it both ways as he claims to want to protect the citizens of New York State while also praising the efforts of the selfless Dr. Craig Spencer.  According to reports, Spencer had been in Guinea for a month before leaving on October 14th and subsequently becoming symptomatic on  October 23rd after strictly following the Doctors Without Borders guidelines for personnel returning home from West Africa.  Now giving into fear and mistrust Cuomo and Christie are going rogue, because after all the federal government is incapable understanding infectious disease.  So now nurse Kaci Hickox is quarantined in Newark after returning from Sierra Leone, despite testing negative for Ebola.  Science has given way to fear, and to make matters worse, it appears the New York governor is hoping for divine intervention:  "This is Sunday. I happen to be Catholic. When I go into church, I'm going to say, ‘Dear Lord, let this be the end of it.”  Yeah, the rational mind places its trust in unqualified political officials and divine intervention over science.  And then there’s the other half of the Goobernatorial Duo, Chris Christie, who must be projecting his own lack of self-control when he says that haven’t faith in the CDC’s or Doctors Without Borders use of a “voluntary system.”

I find it interesting and disturbing that we trust these medical professionals to abide by the Hippocratic Oath (modern version), sort of…

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

The only way to stop Ebola, is at its source and as stated on the oath above, ‘prevention is preferable to cure.’  The men and women of organizations such as Doctors Without Borders travel to ground zero to treat, educate, and stop the spread of the disease even as The World Health Organization sounds the alarm of 10,000 new cases/week.  Anything that could possibly stop one of these brave men and women from travelling to West Africa is both misguided and dangerous, and that is what Cuomo and Christie are doing.

But what is really at the core of the Cuomo and Christie mandates?  Simply, mistrust and fear.  Even though Thomas Eric Duncan,  the only person who spread the disease upon returning to the USA from West Africa, did so AFTER the hospital he visited sent him home with antibiotic, and the two people infected were the healthcare workers tasked with treating Mr. Duncan, there is still a paranoia that the disease will spread uncontrollably here in the U.S.A.  The mistrust is fed by conspiracists, political hacks, hubris, and ignorance.  One should always be skeptical of the government, just like one should never trust a politician, a news reader (formerly referred to as newsman), or anyone who offers opinion as fact. 

Sadly, the rhetoric from many and the comments on social media sites remind me of the AIDS/HIV hysteria that swept the nation in the 80’s.  Then, a 1985 survey of 2,308 by the Los Angeles Times found the following:

  • 55 percent said they would not refuse to send their children to a classroom where another pupil had AIDS
  • 51 percent of the respondents supported a quarantine of acquired immune deficiency syndrome patients
  • 45 percent said they would support testing job applicants for AIDS antibodies.
  • 48 percent would approve of identity cards for those who have taken tests indicating the presence of AIDS antibodies and 15 percent supported tattooing those with AIDS.

In 1985 we wanted to quarantine people who had AIDS, in 2014 we want to quarantine doctors and nurses who treat patients with Ebola.  And while the circumstances may be different, the underlying factors remain the same:  fear, ignorance, and mistrust can overpower facts, science, and data.

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