Saturday, October 18, 2014

Can We Really Be Making the Ebola Crisis Political?

Yes, apparently we can.  Just glance at a few of the headlines below (and read the articles if you'd like) if you need proof.

The Politics of Ebola, NY Times
The Nightmarish Politics of Ebola, Part 2, The New Yorker
The Ebola Blame Game Takes the Stage at Midterm Debates, NPR
MSNBC Slams GOP Over 'Irresponsible' "Politics of Fear' on Ebola, Newsbusters
Ebola and Politics Don't Mix, Bloomberg View
The Toxic Politics of Ebola, Foreign Policy
The Ebola Health Crisis Becomes Political Campaign Fodder, The Wall Street Journal
Ad Blames GOP Budget Cuts For Ebola Outbreak, Real Clear Politics
Dems, GOP play Ebola Politics, The Hill

As Bob's often used refrain goes, politics sucks.  But Ebola sucks worse.  People die from it. In my opinion, people will die from it, who might not have otherwise, because of our failure to do the one thing that in no way at all seems political - shut off travel from West Africa. Why in the world is enacting a standard clinical protocol viewed as political?  And how in the world can screening masses of people at airports be more effective, as President Obama says, than telling anybody in West Africa not to bother going to the airport, if they're headed for America, until further notice? The rest of Africa has managed to stay Ebola free by implementing a similar rule, so the notion that people will just lie about where they've been so they can avoid the ban, which has been put forth by officials as the likely result of instituting restrictions, doesn't stand up very well.

But since this topic has been so politicized, I thought I'd have a conversation with someone I often engage over email and text messages in political discussions.  We do it that way because we often disagree.  Emails and texts are "safe" and we can "leave it in cyberspace" when we're done without harboring any hard feelings. I was hoping to find this to be one of those times where we agreed.  Please see below for the conversation that took place yesterday.  And please excuse some of the abbreviations and slang - we tend to be pretty informal when we have these discussions. ..............................................................................................................................................

Me:  Ok, please tell me you think we should shut off flights...this isn't a dem. vs. repub. thing right?

Him:  Well initially I did but now I don't know if that is right answer either. One cat got in so we shut it down for everybody? Maybe a bit of over reaction.

Me:  How is it an over reaction?

Him:  That "one cat" infected two people who may have infected others

Me:  You know how viruses spread- exponentially.  "One cat" is all you need to start an epidemic.  A travel ban seems the logical response, not an overreaction.

Me:  That's what the rest of Africa did to keep it contained to West Africa - they completely shut down the borders.

Him:  Ok but the reason they were infected was due to not being trained when handling ole boy. If that's the case it's already here then right?

Me:  No, the reason they were infected was because ole boy came here from West Africa.

Him:  I mean I wouldn't be mad if they did. Just saying media is hyping this thing up a little more than it is in my opinion.

Me:  And no, if you keep letting people in you just speed up the spreading process.

Him:  So travel ban for ever?

Me:  No, until.

Me:  And send all the help we can over there.

Him:  But bigger issue to me is that thousands of folks there have died from it and nothing can be done. Two Americans get it and all of a sudden there is a cure.

Him:  That's the heart of it to me. We should have been sent help.

Me:  Not true.  First of all, there is no cure for any virus and second there are African survivors. They even go back to the hospitals to help after they recover.

Him:  Yeah it's not a death sentence. Some do survive. Question is did they get same "experimental" drug

Me:  Don't know, but I don't think so, but even that's no guarantee of survival.

Me:  Doctors Without Borders has been doing a much better job than US govt.

Me:  But I don't see a conspiracy here if that's what you're saying

Him:  Not conspiracy but same class situation. 3000 Poor villagers in Africa die - who cares. 2 Americans just get it and it's splashed on every station as Ebola outbreak.

Me:  Ebola has been front page since the outbreak started.  As it was the last time it started.  I'm not sure I'm following you.

Me:  And who ever has said "who cares?".  People from the US have been over there fighting this for a long time.

Me:  The experimental drugs HAVE been used on Africans.  They didn't just develop them when the two white Americans got it.  The disease was only in Africa.

Him:  Of course not

Me:  The media hyped it as you said

Him:  But when else in history have 3000 people died and it not be front page news.  Only became front page news when two Americans got it.  And even then the front page news is the two not the 3000.

Him:  But to your original point, yeah I am good with anything they do to try and contain it.

Me:  Well my original question was is this political.

Him:  Of course.  Cause dems are blaming it on cuts repubs made.  Everything is political these days when they shouldn't be.

Me:  I agree with that.  And even if the cuts were the cause, and I'm not saying they were, that doesn't fix it...the solution is practical, not political.

Him:  Most are. But we try to blame other side for everything.
So, I understand why it's political.  It's all about rich people turning their backs on poor people - for those who choose to think that way.  And they can accuse anyone who advocates for the shutting down of flights of being a scaremongering, elitist bigot.  But this isn't scaremongering, it's science, basic science at that.  There's a problem statement:  The Ebola virus is spreading and we need to stop it from spreading to the US.  There's a hypothesis:  If we stop potential carriers of the virus from traveling to our country, we can stop the virus from spreading to our country.  There's the testing of the hypothesis where we stop/allow potentially infected travelers.  There's the observations that we record from the test.  Then there are our conclusions and new questions.  But as Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal put it below, even little kids could figure out how to apply the scientific method to this one:

"...It is one thing that Dr. Frieden, and those who are presumably making the big decisions, have been so far incapable of making a believable and compelling case for not instituting a ban. A separate issue is how poor a decision it is. To call it childish would be unfair to children. In fact, if you had a group of 11-year-olds, they would surely have a superior answer to the question: “Sick people are coming through the door of the house, and we are not sure how to make them well. Meanwhile they are starting to make us sick, too. What is the first thing to do?”
The children would reply: “Close the door.” One would add: “Just for a while, while you figure out how to treat everyone getting sick.” Another might say: “And keep going outside the door in protective clothing with medical help.” Eleven-year-olds would get this one right without a lot of struggle.
If we don’t momentarily close the door to citizens of the affected nations, it is certain that more cases will come into the U.S. It is hard to see how that helps anyone. Closing the door would be no guarantee of safety—nothing is guaranteed, and the world is porous. But it would reduce risk and likelihood, which itself is worthwhile."

If I were to make this situation analogous to a basketball game, I would have to conclude that we're running the wrong plays.  For me to be convinced otherwise, either the coach is going to have to get smarter (better capable of convincing me) or I'm going to have to get dumber (less in need of being convinced).  



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