As the US flirts with Ebola panic, it’s worth noting that Nigeria – more corrupt than Chicago but probably not Camden, with ethnic and social divisions that would make the most hardened academic grievance-monger yak up her skull, and a nation that as a whole is like a Detroit that rarely ends – has managed to stop its Ebola outbreak pretty much cold. 20 were infected, and eight died – a tragedy, sure, but since the outbreak occurred in Lagos, a city of 21 million that is among the least hygenic metropolitan areas in the world, that seems fairly miraculous.
Nigeria did it by doing the public-heath blocking and tackling that has stanched epidemics from cholera to malaria to dengue fever; isolating the infected and the infection, monitoring the exposed, practicing basic hygiene around the ill and the potentially ill.
They knuckled down and did what needed to be done.
Now, the US is one of the healthiest nations on earth. Perhaps too healthy – modern parents’ mania for germ-killing may be hurting their childrens’ immune systems. Worse, while some among our public health community are well aware of the dangers a virus like Ebola could cause, it seems there were several major breakdowns in the handling of the first case, Thomas Duncan, a Liberian living in Dallas.
Will the CDC and the other public health authorities react appropriately to the outbreak? Especially given that the CDC answers to an Administration that clearly values political correctness over competence?
Let’s just say that this is one area where I’d love to think government was as competent as big government’s proponents tell us it is.
The track record is mixed, of course.
Through much of the last 100 years, between sound public health and public information, and world-leading research (thank you, free enterprise!), most epidemic diseases have been contained, and many former scourges have been nearly eradicated.
And yet when the AIDS epidemic broke out, it quickly escaped the public health agencies’ ability to control it. Part of it was the government’s response; in one of three mistakes he made as President, he kept the government’s response low-key.
Of course, there was plenty of blame to shame. Some countries contained AIDS using sound, traditional public health practices. Cuba contained its outbreak far more quickly and effectively than the US, using sound, traditional public health techniques including quarantining the infected…
…which were politically untenable in the US; as the gay rights movement gained traction, the idea of focusing public health efforts on gay culture, much less quarantining gay male patients, as the Cubans did), became politically incorrect.
(And since some liberal will no doubt read the above as “Mitch Berg calls for quarantining teh gay” – I’d say the same thing if there were a 100% lethal, contagious, viral disease that spread via the behavior of straight Presbyterian conservatives; public health is public health).
Will the Obama Administration react any better to this crisis than they did the last several? There’s always hope. The President certainly isn’t getting useful advice from some of his supporters (hint to MSNBC hosts and other illiterates; the CDC needs a surgeon general to react to an epidemic about like the IRS needs a director to process your 1040 form; Obama needs to quit politicizing public health. Oh, wait – there it is again!).