Texan health officials have revealed that the first US-diagnosed Ebola patient has died. Mistakes in the initial diagnosis and treatment of the patient showed that the oft-touted first-world health care system is far from perfect.
When Thomas Eric Duncan visited the emergency room of a Texas hospital when he first started showing symptoms, he was sent home with antibiotics. Despite revealing that he had come from an Ebola-affected area, his first line of treatment was an antibacterial drug, a treatment course that may have contributed to his eventual death. And one that certainly contributes to the increasing cases – and very real threat – of antibiotic resistant bacteria or “superbugs”.
In response, several Western countries, including the US, Canada and the UK have ramped up their airport screening of passengers coming from West African countries. This, it is believed, will help identify patients that may potentially be infected with the virus, preventing their entry into the country. And here the narrative appears to stop. As with Duncan’s case where information on his travel history was not triaged, and a short-list of Haz-mat contractors and funeral homes capable of dealing with Ebola cases not created, no further thought appears to have been given to how these passengers will be handled if deemed to be infected. A google search of US airport isolation wards reveals pitiful little information. And unlike the treatment of deportees in the so-called first world, handling infected arrivals will be far more complex than simply handcuffing these individuals and sending them home on the first chartered flight.
The ongoing onslaught of Ebola reveals even more errors in the current Western mentality and way of life. While South American haemorrhagic fevers, “discovered” in the 1960s, already have effective vaccines, African haemorrhagic fevers have none. The outrageous expense of vaccine development makes it difficult for the affected countries to perform the necessary research while the countries with sufficient resources focus their research on chronic, more profitable and, ironically, lifestyle-preventable illnesses. This typical and short-sighted thinking inherent to our capitalistic economy, where only the plights of the wealthy are given adequate attention, has no doubt contributed to the victories of Ebola in claiming over 3,000 lives and counting; a mentality that is self-defeating in a world where any deadly infection can quickly become an outbreak in our modern overcrowded cities, and rapidly spread from any area of the world to another.
Perhaps in a future where human life is treasured and human rights not synonymous with, and mistaken for, citizen’s rights alone, deadly epidemics like Ebola will only be found in the history books.