by Nathaniel Smith, Politics: A View from West Chester, 10/2/14
When an epidemic starts far away, we tend to be in denial. It couldn’t happen here because we have such an advanced medical system, right?
No man is an island and no country is a gated community.
Do you remember the scary arrival of AIDS in this country 30+ years ago? That also came to us from Africa, while people weren’t paying enough attention here. Doesn’t it make one think that the international community — with mainly the wealthy countries footing the bill — ought to be more active in helping improve health conditions around the world? The World Health Organization is doing what it can, but unfortunately their budget has declined recently.
And now ebola has reached Texas after all and the victim was initially turned away from a hospital. Whatever science can do, it can’t rule out human error.
And in one of the ironies of globalization, the Texas patient boarded his pane in Monrovia, named after our 5th president James Monroe, since Liberia was founded as a country by African Americans from the US in the first half of the 19th century.
The widening circle of ebola victims is to the world community as the increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is to the US population.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria aren’t a fringe group worry. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says:
…these drugs have been used so widely and for so long that the infectious organisms the antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them, making the drugs less effective.
Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.
We often hear about hospital infections and deaths due to MRSA. According to the Mayo Clinic,
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections.
Most MRSA infections occur in people who’ve been in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers….
And why do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics? In part because of the overuse of antibiotics in industrial meat production. So much has been written about that, and so little improves because the meant lobby has such a stranglehold on Congress.
Here’s just one recent tidbit: “Taking a Health Hazard Home” by Stephanie Strom, New York Times, 9/15/14
A new study of a small group of workers at industrial hog farms in North Carolina has found that they continued to carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria over several days, raising new questions for public health officials struggling to contain the spread of such pathogens….
If those workers know what’s good for them, they won’t eat the pork there — but they can’t avoid breathing.
The spread of ebola and MRSA has several lessons, in my view:
The US can’t keep out diseases from other countries (by the way, dengue fever is here too) and global warming isn’t going to help at all.
We and the other wealthy countries need to support third-world countries’ health care more, for their sake and our own.
We need a truly national health care system, so that no one who might have serious symptoms will hesitate to see a doctor immediately — or have to wait in line for hours either. A single-payer health care system for Pennsylvania, as proposed by Health Care for All PA, would be a good start.
Disruptions of populations, as by warfare — think of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the Middle East now –, spread disease. Read “1918 flu pandemic” in Wikipedia. Brought on by World War I, the so-called (and wrongly named) Spanish flu “infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—three to five percent of the world’s population—making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.”
The world needs to get its priorities straight: less money for war, more for health!
PS: More on the budget: the entire 2014 budget for the CDC, which through the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases is leading US ebola help to West Africa, is $11.3 billion.
Meanwhile, according to the National Priorities Project, the US has spent over $1.5 trillion on wars since 2001, and so far just in 2014 over $18 billion on nuclear weapons.
See also: “Budget Cuts ‘Eroded Our Ability to Respond’ to Ebola, Says Top Health Official” by Gabrielle Canon, Mother Jones, 10/1/14.
In terms of national security, isn’t protection against epidemics a more beneficial expenditure than nuclear weapons?