When it comes to matters of trade and economics, experts are eager to speak of “globalization. People are keen to talk about the dissolution of borders and the many ways that countries work together across the globe. At least part of every Apple computer purchased in the U.S. was manufactured or assembled in Ireland. Many call centers are located in the Caribbean and India. U.S. companies subcontract these jobs to other countries because hourly wages are lower in those countries than at home.
To be sure, this economic globalization does not go well with some. Why can’t these jobs stay in the U.S.? If some in Congress have their way, companies that send jobs abroad may face higher taxes or fewer incentives from those that keep their jobs at home. A downside of globalization is that fluid nature of borders allows for copyright and trademark infringement. Some companies have taken their complaints to world judicial bodies, with mixed results.
Now, Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who travelled to Dallas to see his fiancé and his son, has died. His death raises lots of questions about the world response about of Ebola, especially on the on the African continent. More than 7,400 people have been diagnosed with the Ebola virus, and nearly half have died from it.
When Duncan went to the hospital on September 25, he told staff he had recently been living in Liberia and complained of the flu-like symptoms that can also signal the virus. Ebola sufferers experience fever, headaches, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, and unexplained bleeding. It can only be transmitted through exposure the bodily fluids of an Ebola-infected person. Doctors sent him home with antibiotics. When he returned to the hospital on September 28, he was admitted and then quarantined.
Most of the Ebola cases are in West Africa, and Liberia has the greatest number of any country; more than half of those diagnosed in Liberia have died. Guinea has the highest survival rate, but a third fewer cases than Liberia, which of course has the lowest survival rate in Africa. The other African countries, including Nigeria and Senegal, have few diagnoses, But Nigeria, with just 20 cases, has survival rate of 40 percent. There are some reports that the virus has spread to Senegal. Among Western countries, Spain had one and a nurse who treated Duncan in Dallas has upped that number to two in the U.S. There may be unreported cases in other states Canada and other Western countries.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued guidelines to health care workers to prevent them from contracting the deadly virus. In Liberia and other West African countries, health care systems are inadequate and without a sufficient number of beds to accommodate those with Ebola. To avoid infecting others, many choose, and others are forced, to lie on the street, ready and waiting to die.
The health care system is so broken in Liberia because there are no resources. The World Bank and the International Development Agency are able to make loans, with the IDA offering loans at favorable terms. But too many African countries have to choose between loan repayment and development. When the choice is loan repayment, schools and hospitals are the most affected.
Clearly, these broken health care systems in West Africa have world impact. Just as Thomas Eric Duncan traveled from Liberia to the United States, others might come from Nigeria or Sierra Leone. The “temperature check” at airports may be less than efficient, and in our global world the Ebola virus can be transported anywhere.
Many see Ebola as an “African disease,” just as they once saw HIV/AIDS as a “gay disease.” Only when these diseases began to affect a different demographic did legislature direct funds to those organizing HIV awareness. Should our legislation not do the same thing for Ebola?
What if the Ebola virus turned up in France and people were dying? Well, France is so structurally different that there are would likely be enough beds to manage the Ebola-infected (just as the U.S. does). There might be a more equitable distribution (or might not), and the country might have more than a scant two doses of an experimental medicine to cure Ebola. The Ebola epidemic began in February or March of this year, yet there was unreadiness when the virus came to the U.S. If we (the US) would have looked at the virus as more than an “African Disease” separated by several miles and oceans and therefore not our concern or priority, perhaps a man’s life could have been saved. Maybe we would have been better prepared for the threat when it came “home.”
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.