Ebola in Liberia

Watching the world go into collective meltdown over the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is highly instructive for anyone who is interested in how the media works, how politics works, and how groupthink works.

The media are rubbing their collective hands with glee. Suddenly they have a new and potentially terrifying threat to wax lyrical about: ISIS terrorism is so last week, right?

Now a “deadly” virus that most people have never heard of, that’s escaped from the nasty, mucky, dark continent of Africa, and threatens us nice white people in our impeccably clean western societies, offers the media a chance for wall-to-wall coverage, most of it hysterical and uninformed.

Politicians now fall neatly into two camps. Those who give a shit about tackling the outbreak, and those who simply give a shit about blaming someone else, and always on the other side of the aisle.

And groupthink has merely descended into group terror. You can’t blame people for being scared, but the level of fear has reached ridiculously high proportions astonishingly quickly.

So here’s a few facts.

ebolavirusEbola can be and is deadly, (with morbidity rates as high as 70% in some of the countries currently under attack), but the vast majority of people infected (perhaps upwards of 90%) will survive IF they receive proper medical care, such as simple matters including rehydration.

This is actually higher than some other much more common severe illnesses.

The huge death numbers in West Africa are because the sanitation, medical and social systems there are completely inadequate to deal with the illness.

The strain of Ebola affecting Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia is not airborne. You HAVE to have an exchange of bodily fluids to catch it. The rapid transition rate in West Africa is because poor people are caring for sick relatives in their own homes, and avoiding contact with saliva, blood and bodily wastes (or surfaces contaminated with them) is extraordinarily difficult in those circumstances.

In reality, as you can see here, the spread rate of Ebola against other serious illnesses is very slow. This is partly, tragically, because in poor countries the sick don’t live long enough to pass the virus on to very many people. Ebola is actually a very inefficient virus. It kills its victims too quickly.

The solution to the Ebola crisis is very simple. By all means isolate the very few cases that will occur in advanced countries, and treat those people with all due care for the treating staff as well. The majority of infected people will recover, especially if they are treated early. Impose travel bans if you wish, though it would be much more sensible to implement heat screening of in-bound passengers, such as was used during the SARS crisis in China.

There is also evidence from previous outbreaks that educating the local community about how to handle patients and reduce infection-risk is an effective way to slow or end outbreaks. This is another area of activity that should be ramped up.

In the meantime, though, whatever else we do, we must DRAMATICALLY increase aid to West Africa. We should be FLOODING the area with capacity to deal with the crisis, AND to deal there with any aid workers from advanced countries who become infected, keeping them there instead of repatriating them to their home country. Although conditions in these countries are extremely difficult, it is not beyond the wit and wisdom of mankind to isolate and treat the virus there. What IS needed is willpower and decisive action and plenty of fast money.

If this was a war, an immediate and resolute response would be found.

Well, this is a war. A war to save potentially hundreds of thousands of poor victims worldwide. This is not a war to protect the West. It was and is and will be a war to protect countries in Africa (and possibly elsewhere) from being set back 25 years in their development, through the avoidable death of countless innocent people.

Rabbit caught in headlights? Pretty much.

Rabbit caught in headlights? Pretty much.

In this regard, the failure of the Australian government to yet send staff to the area is staggeringly weak and vacillating.

Health Minister Peter Dutton waffles on about not knowing where to treat any staff who contract the virus.

Well, here’s a question to answer, Mr Dutton. If Ebola gets into the slums of the poorer countries of Asia (such as especially the Philippines and Thailand) or the favelas of South America, it will then GENUINELY be too late to stop a worldwide humanitarian disaster. What will you do then?

If you are genuinely concerned about the safety of our aid workers or troops, (and not simply trying to save money and hope someone else does the heavy lifting) then explain the situation simply and clearly, and ask for volunteers.

Action, this day. Nothing else is acceptable.

PS Don’t expect to see the commonsense in this article reported in mainstream media, so feel free to share it.


  1. Pat A says:

    I agree Yolly, that most cases of Ebola in the richer, industrialised countries of the world can currently be contained – and agree that we simply must put pressure on our governments (if we can) to help contain the disease in West Africa and stop it from spreading.

    It seems to me that with the people currently in power in the world, the only way to persuade them to disgorge any sort of help for these poor, desperate people in West Africa is to put it not as humanitarian aid, but to show the politicians a balance sheet of what will happen if they don’t act in time and if it spreads into the slums that exist all over the world. And if they don’t act in time we must tell them that the blame for the situation that they have helped create will stick to them forever, making both they and their friends eternally unelectable (the real impetus in my view).

    Long experience has shown me that the first thing that any politician wants is to be re-elected and remain in power – unless they are one of the few with principles, and sadly they are very few and far between these days. So we must remind them that this is one scandal that time will not forget – if they allow Ebola to spread because they were lax in taking action, we will remember, and remind everyone else too!

    ((I have been putting my money where my mouth is from May, when I got an appeal from Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders and have increased my monthly giving to them by a factor of 12 – they are [in my opinion] utterly and completely heroic)).


    • I find it simply inexplicable that Governments seem to be responding so slowly on the ground. I see now there may be a case in Mali, too. These countries are completely unable to deal with an outbreak of this size effectively. If the virus moves decisively beyond Africa to other poor countries it will be like Armageddon.


  2. Pat A says:

    I think the answer to why our governments are so slow to respond is that a) they are Right Wing (with all that entails) and b) this tragedy has been happening in poor countries far away and c) our countries are just coming out of a recession – all factors militating against a speedy,intelligent and compassionate response. Surely Germany has been doing a lot to help in the three most badly affected countries in West Africa, but I can’t find traces of it online – I even looked in Die Spiegel this morning (English translation) but could find no news items in translation on Ebola during the last month. They surely have plenty of money to give to help – and trained personnel too.


    • Pat they continue to parrot the farcical nonsense that they won’t send people because it’s too far to repatriate them if they get sick – completely ignoring the alternative which is to provide support so they could be treated effectively on site. Completely ignoring the option of asking for volunteers. They are a hopeless bunch of little brains. I say again: if this thing “jumps” out of Africa there will be hell to pay – literally.


  3. Pat A says:

    I do concur, Yolly – it is a (small) part of the reason that I am giving to Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders till it hurts! (Apart from the fact that I think that MSF are utter heroes, and I don’t understand how any human being could ignore the plight of those suffering with such a horrendous disease).

    I’m sure the weirdly slow time that our governments have taken to act have spawned conspiracy theories by the dozen, but I do hope that it is because of that old phrase ‘never underestimate human stupidity’ not anything worse! The thought of this disease spreading throughout the world is appalling.

    God bless the volunteers who go and fight this disease – they are all heroes!


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