Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

US Cases of Ebola Distract From Crisis

“EBOLA MAY BE IN D.C. WEAR A FACE MASK AND DON’T SHARE DRINKS!” read one text I got last week from a good friend of mine.The actual text had about eight more exclamation points, but I have confidence you sense the urgency she meant to convey.

I could tell she was half-joking; she wasn’t actually worried about my safety. She didn’t really want me to wear a facemask to class. Still, her text botheredme. She was just looking out for me, I thought. It wasn’t the jest of the text that bothered me — clearly, jokes about Ebola are in poor taste; they trivialize a terrifying, hellish vicurs, which is fatal in 90 percent of cases and is currently ravaging West Africa. It was her quasi-concern that struck me as the more insidious motivation. It was an echo of what I had been seeing on the news all week — the sensationalizing of the Ebola threat in the United States and the abandonment of the thousands afflicted in West Africa from our collective conscience.

There are two confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States compared to the almost 9,000 in West Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest estimates. And yet, I hear about troublesome events in Dallas more often than I hear about them in Liberia or Sierra Leone, two of the worst-hit countries. Actually, I know everything there is to know about these two American cases. I know their names; I know their travel history; I know that they became infected because they worked at a hospital that didn’t have cautious enough measures in place; I know that they have family members; I even know that one of them, a nurse, was getting married soon.

But I hear very little about the 9,000 in West Africa. They remain a faceless, nameless mass, important to note only because of their sheer numbers — out of sight, out of mind.

No one investigates how they were infected (probably in an overcrowded hospital); no one worries about their chances of survival (probably slim). We’ve failed to humanize Ebola’s many, many victims. And as a result, the epidemic overseas seems almost abstract, not something happening to us right now but rather something far-off or remote. It is the site that most needs and is least prepared for containment, but it fails to dominate news cycles week to week.

Instead, we hear about the frantic parents pulling their kids from school, the possibly Ebola-ridden cruise ship and the demands from liberals and conservatives that we close our borders. We have effectively made the Ebola outbreak ours. It is no longer the disease that has gripped West Africa for the past four months, killing thousands and spiraling out of control, but the disease that poked holes in our public health infrastructure and left American voters frantic and afraid. It’s no longer their story; it’s ours. Or at least, it’s our story that’s important.

But how? Maybe it’s the novelty, the fact that Ebola has never touched the developed world until now. But how does this news overshadow the development that Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, which lies only miles away from the most stricken cities, effectively contained the epidemic and has even been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization? How does it eclipse stories about the countless medical professionals risking their lives to contain this disease that has the potential to kill so many more? How are we not paying attention to these awe-inspiring stories?

Maybe you’ll say that it is important to point out only because of the principle of the matter. Obviously, we should be better humans, be less self-centered and care about the thousands dying in West Africa. But it’s more than that. Public awareness and concern are what drive things like international aid and multilateral cooperation. And the West African region is in desperate need of both.

The number of Ebola cases is projected to double in the next month, and meanwhile, the economy, schooling, transportation — every aspect of daily life — has essentially halted throughout the region. And the more we dawdle and focus on how this or that congressman would have dealt with the Ebola crisis (and by the way, that’s why you should vote for him), the more dangerous the epidemic becomes.

Maybe this is President Obama’s “Katrina” and maybe that matters, but it won’t be because he failed to close our borders, it’ll be because he failed to galvanize enough support to catch up with the spread of the virus before it was too late.

Hanaa Khadraoui is a senior in the College. She is an at-large member of The Hoya’s board of directors.

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