From the comfort of home: still thinking of Ebola

As someone who regularly picks up a cause and runs with it, not only do I relate to, but I also really admire those who have something they stand for, day in and day out. Regardless of their opposition. Who shout from the rooftops incessantly, shining light onto whatever it is that they are riled up about.

So shine on, my friends, because there are so many distractions in our world, and so many ways for us in the West to avoid these dark corners. So some of us need some flashlights. Shine on. Thus, regardless of the fact that I am no longer in the region, I will continue to keep my personal spotlight on the subject of Ebola. I guess, having been there, I have a good grasp of the scenario in my mind’s eye, which makes it easier for me to feel compelled by the images, and the descriptions; to bring myself to the ground, and comprehend the disaster. The social and cultural components which are perpetuating the disease; the merciless environment which takes a toll on even the most able-bodied of us. I can picture it, and yet, I’m still sure that my idea is still not even close to reaching the actual level of desperation in the affected areas.

So perhaps I have a bit better of an understanding of the problem that most of my friends, but it’s actually not that complex, so I cannot understand how with such a relatively simple problem, there is such little action.

This is not a civil war. This is not a complicated, religious/tribal/ethnic, heavily-skewed-in-the-media kind of problem. It does not stem back several decades. There is no unrest; no clashing forces. This is not an incomprehensible kind of problem; the kind we normally avoid with ease, due to too many factors obstructing our ability to understand.

This is the kind of problem that, in the West, gets immediate and exaggerated attention. There are protocols, education campaigns, and safety precautions (think: SARS, or the ongoing debate about vaccinations in Canada). On an international level.

But above all, this problem, if it were in the West, would receive funding. Funding and manpower.

No one is asking where the rest of the response is. They don’t question why, after five months of talk, and more than 1,500 known deaths, the epidemic is still raging. They don’t ask, “Where is the money donors are pledging? Where are the boots on the ground?” – Ebola: “Fighting a Forest Fire With Spray Bottles”, MSF 09/02/14

But instead, they are receiving the attention of a handful of actors, who are struggling under the weight of this epidemic; working tirelessly to get it under control, but repeating the fact that they cannot do enough. There needs to be more.

I took Tewa’s aunt home when she recovered—one of the rare happy days—and saw her mother. I looked for Tewa’s face among the sea of excited children even though I knew she wasn’t there. “How is she?” her mother asked me. “Yesterday she was able to shower,” I told her. But the next day when I asked about Tewa, the doctor in charge of her care shook his head. “It’s not good. She started bleeding,” he told me, “and she has that look.” I knew the look. I’ve seen it too many times over the past five months. “Ok,” I said, biting my lip and willing my eyes to not fill with tears. “I’m sorry,” he told me.

We’re all sorry.

We’re sorry that we don’t have a medicine proven safe and effective to kill the Ebola virus. We’re sorry that we don’t have a vaccine. We’re sorry that we’ve failed to stop the epidemic. We know we should be doing more but we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the capacity, we don’t have the staff. Some days it feels like it doesn’t matter how hard we work because there aren’t enough of us.

I mean, come on. We’re flying home 3 Canadians because someone in their hotel became infected, and we recently flew home two Americans who contracted the disease. Now that’s totally fine, and I wish them all the best of health and recoveries, but if we can do this, why can’t we do more to save the lives of those who cannot leave?

It’s as if the world wants to bury its head in the sand and hope that it all goes away. I made it in and out of three airports after leaving Morocco, and not a single person stopped to ask me anything about it! I had to spoon-feed the information to the one person that got even close, but as much of an annoyance it would have been, I was really hoping for a little quarantine. At least take my goddamn temperature!

“This is not an African disease. This is a virus that is a threat to all humanity,” Gayle Smith, special assistant to US President Barack Obama and senior director at the National Security Council, told reporters. – “Ebola death toll accelerates in West Africa“, Aljazeera 09/03/14

At least I have the luxury of returning to a place where I can receive adequate medical attention; at least pretend it’s on the radar. Because those who do not have western medical facilities to return to, and whose situation worsens by the day, as fear overtakes the population and dictates their behaviour, they are the ones that will truly suffer.

If it were in our backyard, the international community would not sit by and watch, so I shall continue to advocate until I see that they stand up and take action.

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