EBOLA: OBAMA ACTS – AT LAST by CAMERON DUODU
IT was with a great sense of relief that I read that President Barack Obama had said, on the NBC’s Meet The Press (one of the most prestigious news programmes in America) that the US would be using its “military assets” to help fight the horrendous Ebola disease that has broken out in some West African countries.
The President said the Ebola outbreak represents “a serious national security concern” to the United States. If the United States and other countries did not send needed equipment, public health workers and other supplies to the afflicted region, the situation could change and the virus could mutate to become more transmissible, President Obama explained.
If such a mutation occurred and the disease began to spread more widely, “it could be a serious danger to the United States.
“We’re going to have to get U.S. military assets just to set up, for example, isolation units and equipment there,” he said, “to provide security for public health workers surging from around the world,” President Obama added.
In other words, the President has recognised that it is in the enlightened self-interest of the United States and the other developed countries to place their expertise at the disposal of the West African populations threatened by Ebola. The wonder is that this obvious situation did not become clear to the US and the other countries much earlier.
For they knew the nature of Ebola. The US sent a specially-equipped aircraft to ferry two American health workers who had been infected with the disease to the US for treatment. Britain too sent an RAF plane to bring a single British nurse for treatment in the UK. The world watched and wondered: if they know how to treat the disease, why aren’t they bringing that knowledge to Africa, people asked.
It was the international president of Medecins Sans Frontieres, Dr Joanne Liu, who boldly told the United Nations, on 2 September 2014, that unless UN members who had the military units that can combat biological weapons into Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to help the victims of Ebola there, he disease would overwhelm the world.
“Many of the [UN] Member States represented here today have invested heavily in biological threat response. You have a political and humanitarian responsibility to immediately utilize these capabilities in Ebola-affected countries”, Dr Liu said.
Dr Liu was absolutely right. All the countries that possess nuclear weapons in the world – the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, India and Pakistan – have invested heavily in military medical units that can try to save their populations in case a nuclear attack is launched against them, or there is an accident at a nuclear facility operated by them at home. Japan should, in fact, be added to the list, as should Germany, for although these two countries do not possess nuclear weapons, they do use nuclear power to generate electricity. The threat they face in common with the countries that possess nuclear weapons is that whenever there is a nuclear explosion – whether from bombs or nuclear power stations – radiation is released to cause untold harm to people with whom it comes into contact.
Now, the way to prevent radiation disease is to make sure that no unprotected person goes near the area where radiation is leaking from. Anyone who is detected by a Geiger counter to be affected by radiation must be isolated immediately, because people who go near those affected by radiation, become affected themselves. The diseases caused by radiation are extremely serious, for they do not merely affect a person’s body but also his or her genes.
If special facilities for combating radiation exist – made up of diagnostic, isolation and treatment centres – within the armed forces and health services of the countries that use nuclear power as weapons or a source of electricity, then it means that they are ready to anticipate and check a disease that are far worse than Ebola. For you cannot contract Ebola unless you actually touch the body or get contaminated by fluids from the body, of a person who has got Ebola or died from it.
. In her special briefing to the UN, Dr. Joanne Liu pointed out that “six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it.” Leaders were “failing to come to grips with this transnational threat.”, she added. Cases and deaths continued to surge in West Africa. Riots were breaking out. Isolation centres were overwhelmed.
Dr Liu went on: “Health workers on the front lines are becoming infected and are dying in shocking numbers. Others have fled in fear, leaving people without care for even the most common illnesses. Entire health systems have crumbled.
Ebola treatment centres are reduced to places where people go to die alone, where little more than palliative care is offered.”
It is good that the President of the United States has heeded the call for military unites to be sent to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. But the countries that have either not been strongly affected, or not been affected at all, must also be helped to prepare themselves to anticipate the possibility of becoming affected. The cost of flying a special plane to pick up American and British Ebola patients must have been enormous. The money would have been better spent sending facilities to West Africa, from which West African patients too could have benefited. It is a sad reflection on the concern the US and Britain have for the people of West Africa that it did not occur to the two countries to use the opportunity offered by the infection of their citizens with Ebola in West Africa, to do some imaginative work on behalf of humanity.
For let us not beat about the bush – both the US and the UK, for instance, profess to care strongly about the interests of the people of West Africa. They have sent technical teams to Nigeria to assist that country with its struggle against Boko Haram. That will have cost them a pretty penny. In the case of the USA, it has actually set up an African Command within its armed for ces (known as ”AFRICOM”) dedicated to assisting African armies to become more efficient, especially in fighting terrorist organisations like Al Shabbab and Boko Haram, as well as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Can you guess what the budget for AFRICOM is for 2014? It should be a cool $300 million or more, if we go by the fact that its headquarters operating budget was $274 million in Fiscal Year 2010, $286 million in Fiscal Year 2011, and $276 million in Fiscal Year 2012. If the people of Africa deserve “military protection” from the USA to the tune of such huge amounts, what about using similar sums to protect them from Ebola? Does it matter whether they die from Ebola or from attacks by terrorists of the Al Shabbab and Boko Haram variety? They would be dead all the same, wouldn’t they?
I urge President Obama not to waste another minute but get the authorisation of Congress – if he needs to – as quickly as possible to set the Ebola Rescue Mission into orbit. Africa will thank the United States for it.