Ebola raging on: what should be done?

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A few weeks ago, whichever paper you picked up there would be a glaring headline foretelling doom and gloom about Ebola and how it was going to become a pandemic and cover the globe. Then it seemed like it had blown over, as with most of these things, the mainstream media sucked the story dry and then felt that any more coverage would be like flogging a dead horse. Yet this disease still rages with virulent strength in West Africa, with up to five people an hour becoming infected in Sierra Leone. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and experts from Imperial College London have warned that unless action is taken rapidly to stem the outbreak, then numbers will continue to climb exponentially, with more than 20,000 people expected to be infected by early November.

Despite the story mostly falling off the front pages, it seems that this, the worst outbreak of Ebola in history, has not fallen out of people’s consciousness entirely. Last week the president of the United States, Barack Obama, pledged 3,000 American soldiers to the region to help control the outbreak and build new healthcare facilities. This seems all very well on the surface, but is it a case of too little, too late? It is not just manpower that is needed to help fight the outbreak; money required has also surged in the last month to an estimated $1 billion worth of aid. This sounds a lot, but it’s actually just over 1/20th of what the UK gives in foreign aid each year. So why is sufficient aid not forthcoming at the pace needed to stem the spread of this disease?

Partially it seems to be a case of out of sight, out of mind. Whilst the outbreak has been raging in West Africa, there have been minuscule effects actually in the UK, with only one British citizen confirmed to have contracted the disease and then recovered. This pledge by Mr. Obama is a step in the right direction however, but the western world shouldn’t be patting itself on the back too readily just yet. When the outbreak started in Guinea in December 2013, and spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia by early summer 2014, it was known that these three countries had some of the weakest health systems in the world, totally unequipped to deal with an outbreak on such a large scale. Put in this light, the fact that America has only just pledged a large amount of manpower to the region, in late September 2014, seems a little less heroic and more like a large power trying to rectify its mistakes. Also, America is just one world power – where are the pledges from other significant powers? China has promised to build healthcare facilities, but where are the lavish grants from European countries?

Of course, it might not be as far away for Lancaster students as we might like to think, with the new Ghana campus opening its doors this year, we have direct links to West Africa. It is possible that the disease has already spread to the country, with many being tested for it in the region. It’s scenarios like this that bring the reality of the disease a little bit closer to home; it is not something that is just affecting people thousands of miles away. This isn’t supposed to be fear-mongering; it is merely trying to illustrate that the outbreak isn’t quite as remote as some would like to think. The chance of it spreading overseas or being spotted in the UK again is remote, and even if it did we have the health facilities to deal with it. This is the main crux of the issue: whilst we are in the comfortable position of knowing that we could tackle this deadly disease should we have the need to, shouldn’t we be doing more to help those whose health systems and governments are crumbling in the face of the onslaught?

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