By Lizzie Bennett
Ebola is rarely in the news these days. What we should be asking is why it isn’t in the news. It hasn’t gone away, in fact, cases are actually on the increase. The World Health Organization states:
The steep decline in case incidence nationally in Sierra Leone from December until the end of January has halted. Transmission remains widespread, with 8 districts reporting new confirmed cases. A significant proportion of cases are still arising from unknown chains of transmission.
The report covers the 7days up to the 22nd February and was published on March 4th. The CDC lists almost 24,000 cases and almost 10,000 deaths and both organisations accept that many of the cases have an unknown outcome, that is, they have no idea if the victims lived or died which could mean the death rate from the outbreak is far higher than the official figures suggest.
So why is this not in the news? Have mainstream media outlets been ‘advised’ to reel in their coverage?
I worked for many years in the National Health Service here in the UK, and I have been told, several times, by several people that are still working in the NHS that Ebola cases are currently being treated in UK and US hospitals, and that this has been the case in the US since the death of Thomas Duncan in October of last year. The first UK case arrived a short time later and the patient died. William Pooley, the public face of Ebola in the UK was apparently not the first case as stated but was the first survivor and he also returned to West Africa, which made him the ideal poster boy for the ‘we cured Ebola’ brigade.
I can’t verify that hospitals in the UK, and the USA, and in a single instance Australia are reporting Ebola cases as malaria cases to avoid a pubic scrutiny in their handling of Ebola cases. The Australian case was listed as Dengue fever according to these sources.
Recently I travelled to Kenya, in East Africa. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya was my entry point to the country. I was very surprised that after disembarking from my nice shiny British Airways jet that small groups of passengers were ushered into the arrivals area and that we were screened by doctors in surgical scrubs and gowns, complete with gloves, masks and overshoes.
The screening was nothing major, stop on the red line and get a temperature probe pointed at you. During the few seconds the reading took to register, we were asked if we had taken any medication to relieve headaches or cold symptoms since leaving the UK. (These drugs lower your temperature). A rather irritating Londoner complained about his rights being violated as nobody had asked permission to take his temperature only to be told firmly but politely that Ebola has no respect for international borders or nationality and that it was his right to get on the next plane out if it was that much of an issue.
After our temperature and question, we were rushed towards the immigration queue. A gowned man stood with a box full of alcohol sanitizer waiting to refill the two machines when they ran out, avoiding the gel was not an option…”Excuse me Sir/Madam” followed by a nod at the dispensers mounted on the brick columns that supported the roof.
At the next column you used more sanitizer, and then once more before arriving at the desk to present your papers…and again immediately you left the desk before collecting your luggage and again immediately before leaving the airport. The routine was the same in reverse on the trip through the airport to return home.
All over Nairobi there are hand sanitizer dispensers. They are in every public place and government office. Some shops and stores have brought their own and expect you to use them as you arrive. Posters constantly remind you about hand hygiene. The traditional Kenyan fist bump, used as a greeting is something not usually seen in more formal settings. Now it has in many areas of business, replaced a handshake and ex-pats are into lots of eye contact and ‘Hi how are you?’ instead of the usual full on hug and back slapping that often came when meeting fellow countrymen. For the ‘ladies that lunch’ set, of which there are many, air kissing is the new norm replacing the traditional kiss on the cheek once so beloved of these women.
At Heathrow departures, there was a couple of posters reminding travellers that West Africa had Ebola. On returning there was a couple of posters saying if you felt ill and were returning from West Africa stay where you are and use the phone on the wall by the poster to speak to a member of staff. That was it.
This, to me, shows either a supreme level of arrogance or a high level of complacency on the part of the British government and the port authorities. As the Doctor at Jomo said “Ebola doesn’t respect borders or nationality.”
Regardless of whether you believe the chatter leaking out of the hospitals or not the fact is that Western governments are not rising to the challenge that Ebola represents.
The epidemic that is sweeping West Africa is far from over. The World Health Organization and many charity groups are reporting that unsafe burials are still taking place, that people are still caring for relatives stricken with Ebola in their homes. Many villages are not allowing monitoring teams to enter and the Ebola status in those areas are not known.
When capital cities with international business links such as Conakry and Freetown are once again reporting a rise in cases the alarm bells should be ringing loud about a second wave of Ebola and what that means not only for West Africa but for the rest of the planet.
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