I’m feeling deeply troubled by the current situation in West Africa. Up to now I’ve done my best to avoid the conjecture and hysteria surrounding the outbreak of Ebola, but as the crisis deepens each day it is becoming harder for the eyes of the western world to ignore. The politicians in charge of the international aid purse strings have been accused of cutting aid budgets to Liberia at exactly the time they needed to be ramped up. Whether or not this is true, it does seem undeniable that the international response to the Ebola epidemic has been too slow off the mark. Experts have warned that for every 10 people currently infected a further 17 will contract the virus. And it’s only now in the face of indisputable evidence that the situation is worsening daily that a summit on how to tackle the spread of the virus was held in London today.
But it’s not just the UK who have been too slow to respond. Today it’s also been revealed an American citizen who returned from Liberia and who had come into direct contact with an infected pregnant woman – carrying her in his arms to a treatment centre where she ultimately died, no less – was turned away from hospital on his home soil when he initially presented symptoms. As a result the authorities are frantically trying to contact 100 people with whom he subsequently came into contact with, and his closest family members are in quarantine lest they too develop symptoms.
This is a humanitarian crisis, and one that could affect us all. Experts believe there is a 90 day window to halt the spread of Ebola, after which the number of infected people could rise from the current rough (and probably vastly underreported) 6,500 to 1.5 million by January. And if the authorities and aid agencies can’t cope now, what hope will they have then?
I can’t pretend I don’t have selfish concerns about the spread of Ebola across the world, but what upsets me even more than the thought of contracting the virus myself (and, God forbid, my loved ones also contracting it), is that up to now the western world has turned the other cheek. It’s disgusting that the lives of our fellow human beings across the world are held in such little regard until the moment that the scales of fortune upturn and the threat looks to be ours as well as theirs. Will Pooley, the British doctor who survived Ebola, has described the cases of a four year old boy and his two year old sister, who died from the virus within 24 hours of each other in ‘squalid’ conditions, lying naked in pools of their own blood and diarrhea. In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, at this very moment, cases such as these are commonplace. Whole families, entire communities are being wiped out in agonising pain and it is simply not acceptable that the western world has for so long been looking on and twiddling its thumbs.
If the doomsayers are right and this virus does spiral out of control, the saddest thing is this: It will be the very politicians who got us into this situation that will have spaces in the quarantine bunkers whilst the rest of us are wiped out. And you can bet they’ll put one hell of a spin on the ‘truth’ they tell their future generations after they emerge, blinking, into the post-apocalyptic light.