Ebola and the US Response
The Ebola virus is a deadly illness that affects human beings, killing 50 to 90% of its victims (WHO, 2014). The number of Ebola cases has reached critical proportions in Africa due to the rate of its transmission. The recent outbreak began in West Africa and quickly spread to neighboring countries including Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal (WHO). Despite the distance, the United States is particularly vulnerable given its involvement in humanitarian aid, research, media reporting, among other activities that bring its citizens to African countries. This was highlighted when the first Ebola cases were reported in Texas and New York. Despite the mad scramble for some semblance of coherent response, the government’s policy appears to be uncoordinated, unprepared and inadequate.
Perhaps the appropriate development that could best define the government’s response to Ebola was when President’s Barack Obama appointed Ron Klain as the “ Ebola Czar”. Klain does not hold any medical degree because he is a political operative. His appointment was supposed to help the government navigate through the intricacies of the bureaucracy, coordinating various federal and state agencies to solve the problem. His political acumen was also expected to effectively articulate governmental policy and response. Unfortunately, this move reflects an erroneous strategy that appears to approach the issue from the political point of view, keeping the focus from the medical and the scientific. It sends the wrong message, contributing to public hysteria because it appears that the government is not taking matters seriously. Indeed, there are already public officials who are undermining the federal response to the problem such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who have imposed stricter quarantine guidelines (Sanchez & Cohen, 2014). The case would have been different had an expert was appointed to the post. Any policy pronouncement would be credible and authoritative.
There are several implications to the inadequate and confused government response. First, there is the case of the quarantine, which could impinge on people’s civil liberties. The federal government appears to be delegating much of policymaking in this area to the states. Benjamin Hayes, the Center for Disease Control spokesman, was quoted as saying, “ We don’t have the authority to tell the states what to do when travelers end up in their states… We set the base guidelines, and the states have the choice to tighten those guidelines” (Dizard, 2014). The CDC should be on top of this public health crisis and not the state officials who implement policies formulated by lawmakers. There should be universal, credible and enforceable guidelines. It will help avoid unnecessary measures such as prolonged mandatory quarantine or unjust isolation. The current response is also discouraging volunteers that could help prevent the spread of the disease in Africa.
What the Ebola problem in the US needs is a coherent response to the problem. Itwill address most of the problems being encountered today: public fear, differences in quarantine rules and the treatment of Ebola patient or those suspected of having the disease. Such coherence, however, can only be achieved through strong leadership. The US government’s move so far is not a step towards this direction. Rather, it fosters fragmentation and conflict, aggravating the problem further.
Dizard, W. (2014). Nurse’s ordeal reveals uncoordinated state, federal Ebola policies. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from: http://america. aljazeera. com/articles/2014/10/28/nurse-s-ordeal-revealsuncoordinatedstatefederalebolapolicies. html.
Sanchez, R. and Cohen, E. (2014). N. Y. official: New Ebola policy ‘a real stunner’. Retrieved from: http://edition. cnn. com/2014/10/25/health/us-ebola/.
World Health Organization (WHO). (2014). Ebola virus disease. WHO. Retrieved from: http://www. who. int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/.
Ebola and the US Response