Ebola: ‘The terrorism of poverty’ in developing nations

This sign stands outside a family home that has been placed under quarantine because of the Ebola virus in Port Loko, Sierra Leone. (Michael Duff | AP)
This sign stands outside a family home that has been placed under quarantine because of the Ebola virus in Port Loko, Sierra Leone. (Michael Duff | AP)

As of late October, research shows that 4,500 people have died of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Out of the eight diagnosed in the U.S., only one person has died from the disease. Why is it that the mortality rate in developing nations is 50 percent, while the mortality rate in the United States is only 12 percent?

Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, an organization dedicated to advocating health care as a human right, said Ebola “isn’t a natural disaster, it is the terrorism of poverty.”

Despite its history in terms of mortality, when given the proper health care response, Ebola is less intimidating. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, health and medical care are basic human rights under the premise that health is essential to life. Allowing Ebola to kill thousands of people not only violates these human rights, but also reveals the power wealth and nationalism have in dividing our society.

Of course, the U.S. is concerned about the Ebola epidemic, but only when the disease directly threatens one of its citizens. The media hype surrounding Ebola has grown exceedingly out of control, and the truth is Ebola becomes powerless in places like the U.S. The living conditions in places that house the destitute poor are unimaginably different from the living conditions within the confines of the U.S.

If there should be any concern about Ebola, it should lie in the fact that as a country we support a system of capitalism that allows the cycle of poverty to continue. Not only do we neglect to realize that health is a basic human right, but we also ensure that the poorest of the poor cannot afford it.

House Republicans are highly critical of the Obama administration’s inaction in handling the epidemic, but for all the wrong reasons. U.S. Representative John Boehner is avidly pursuing a temporary travel ban between the U.S. and infected countries in order to “protect the American people.” Doctors without Borders criticized this notion: “It has been our experience that lockdowns and quarantines do not help control Ebola as they end up driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers.”

Any action rooted in self-interest will inevitably do more harm than good. To control the threat of Ebola in America, we must start in West Africa. In Liberia, the hospitals do not have nearly enough beds for patients, and many are turned away to die in solitude with no medical care at all. Ambulance personnel and doctors work tirelessly to give hope to the hopeless, knowing that if they were not victims of structural violence, they would not be dying. The conditions are cruel and unjust, and we are allowing them to happen.

The complete and utter lack of governmental aid to combat this disease outside of the U.S. is reprehensible. Extreme nationalism, in this case especially, is one of the most dangerous forms of discrimination and somehow remains unrecognized as a perpetuator of human rights violations. There needs to be a shift in mentality that includes a universal understanding that we are all human beings before anything else.

We must take responsibility for the human rights violations of everyone, not just those who reside within U.S. borders. For society to be just, the human race must fall and rise together not allowing people to suffer while others thrive. The longer we neglect the Ebola epidemic outside our borders, the closer we inch toward our own   destruction.