Talking Point

October 8, 2014

Ebola Virus Disease and America’s funny hypocrisy

By Rotimi Faan
On September 30, 2014 America recorded its first case of Ebola Virus Disease. The source of this unwanted guest to the American soil was himself a guest to America from one of the countries at the centre of the disease. He was Liberia’s Thomas Eric Duncan who was visiting Texas.

Like Nigeria’s index case, Patrick Sawyer, America’s index case was also a Liberian. Like Sawyer, Duncan also tried to conceal the fact that he might have been infected with the disease from medical authorities who sought information on this from him. Asked if he had had any contact with an infected person, Duncan promptly answered in the negative.

But since he developed symptoms of the disease in America it had been revealed that he had conveyed a female relative infected with the disease to some medical facility in a wheel barrow.

Liberia is now threatening to prosecute Duncan if it is confirmed that he had in fact told this dangerous lie to the authorities in America upon being questioned. With the outbreak of Ebola the world is confronted with a major medical crisis and it is very important, indeed a matter of duty, that people shouldn’t lie about important facts that could mean the difference between life and death not just for them alone but a threat to humanity as a whole.

Within 72 hours of Duncan showing symptoms of Ebola, he was quarantined in a medical facility while some of his relatives he had contact with were restricted to their home under close watch.

Other persons he might have had indirect contact with were also placed under close medical surveillance for possible signs of Ebola. As at the time I write this, more than 100 persons have been put under what medical experts in America called contact tracing, that is tracing the identity of persons that could have had either direct or indirect contact with the index case.

The panic that the arrival of Ebola has created in America must come as a shock to many in different parts of West Africa that have been under the grip of the disease since April. Indeed for the first three months after the outbreak of the disease, the matter was more or less regarded as the local problem of the affected African countries. Even in Nigeria not many paid Ebola any attention until Sawyer berthed in the country in the third week of June and several medical personnel quickly came down with the disease.

The fear of Ebola became widespread when photographs of persons already infected were published in the press and suddenly the price of bitter kola went up and people saw, or were advised, that they could no longer eat their favourite game meat.

The fear was indeed palpable as Ebola appeared like an invisible enemy that travelled with the wind. While the government through the country’s medical authorities gave assurances of what they were doing to contain the spread of the disease, each day seemed to bring in information on possible new cases of Ebola in different parts of the country. The panic was spreading with a mixture of fear and comedy.

But not for once did this have any impact beyond the general fear that anybody could be infected. The fact that there was no known cure for Ebola also added to the panic. It was indeed nearly a case of everyone protecting themselves and looking for their own cure.

This was the case until an American doctor had to be evacuated from Liberia while working on Ebola patients in the country. His arrival in America was the first opportunity the rest of us in these parts had to hear of ZMapp, the magic drug that many thought could provide the needed elixir for Ebola.

It was successfully used for the American. But thereafter America would not permit its use elsewhere for different reasons, the major being that it was yet to pass the stage of clinical trial.

Other Westerners who came down with Ebola in Africa were also evacuated and were successfully treated apparently with drugs like ZMapp in their different countries.

And it became clear that Africa, in spite of calls by the WHO that the rest of the world come to its aid, was being left to its own devices as far as finding a workable vaccine for Ebola was concerned.

What goes round may somehow come around. Just as Nigeria was being declared Ebola-free by the WHO, America started its long walk through the dark tunnel with her first Ebola case.

But the details are not the same with Nigeria’s. The story of a possible vaccine for Ebola seems to be changing with the outbreak of the disease in America. America seems to have gone into a frenzy about Ebola like Nigeria.

The fear of the disease spreading beyond control has gripped America. While the Nigerian Stock Exchange dey kampe all through our Ebola scare months, a loud Ebola rumble went through the American financial sector last week with share prices falling. But that is not the only difference in America and Nigeria’s reaction to Ebola.

Unlike Nigeria where nobody talked of any credible cure or vaccine for Ebola beyond the comic scramble for bitter kola, America is talking about a huge race to produce a vaccine in a short time and without compromising safety. In a CNN report last week, an American expert mentioned at least three different vaccines that could be immediately pressed into service to combat Ebola.

Even though this expert of possibly Asian origin whose name I did not record tried to cover the hypocrisy of the whole vaccine saga by creating the impression that these drugs were already being developed in the laboratory before the outbreak of Ebola in America- even while this man tried to talk as if these drugs had been in the making for a long time, it betrays the hypocrisy of America that it is only now that the drugs are to be tested.

The report did not even mention ZMapp which is probably of lower grade when compared with these new vaccines.

At a time the rest of the world, specifically Africa, reeled with fear of possible annihilation America hoarded its ZMapp and other vaccines that could have alleviated the suffering of thousands of people. They thought nothing of the fact many were dying and many more could die.

The market was the crucial determinant of what was possible and what could be done. For as long as it was citizens of the poorer nations of the world that were suffering, it was okay for America and the rest of the West to delay clinical trial of drugs that could bring succour to many or delay research into Ebola vaccines.