I read an article on IrishCentral early last week that started gnawing at me later in the week.
In the article Irish doctor Eilish Cleary, who also happens to be the Chief Medical Officer of the Canadian province of New Brunswick, explained how Nigeria had managed to become Ebola free following the arrival of the disease in August.
There was nothing wrong with the article. In fact, it was uplifting. I rarely read about competent management and government in Africa, but this story had lots of that.
Cleary explained how Nigeria managed to contain the spread of Ebola after Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer collapsed and died in the airport in Nigeria's capital city, Lagos. Sawyer was the first, but shortly after he died there were 19 reported cases in Africa's most populous nation. Yet, the disease didn't spread uncontrollably. In fact as of Monday, October 20 Nigeria is officially Ebola free.
“[Y]ou must not only put attention into caring for the people that got sick, but you also have to track down every single one of those contacts, and watch them for 21 days, and then if they get sick, you have to isolate them, and go into a circle of their contacts … Now that’s something that takes a lot of time, resources, and good old fashioned public health work. But there’s no shortcut to it, and that’s what Nigeria did really well.”
Doesn't sound like rocket science. In fact, it sounds like hard work and attention to detail is what it takes. It's fantastic that Nigeria was able to so successfully beat the disease back.
Nothing to complain about there. It's an absolutely tremendous story.
A few days later the headlines in the American papers were all about how badly things were being done in Texas. “We are NOT Ready!” screamed one of the tabloids.
Yes, I know the media can over-hype things. Apocalyptic scenarios must be big sellers, I guess.
Still, reading the more sober wing of the press was far from reassuring: a man with Ebola managed to enter America; two health workers at the hospital that first sent him home and then treated him ended up infected themselves, but only after one of those nurses was told she could fly to Cleveland only to be later told, 'Uh, maybe not' after she'd already gone; and a lab technician who handled a specimen from the now dead Liberian went off on a Caribbean cruise. A shambles.
Then I read an interview with the head of the National Institutes of Health in which he moaning about his insufficient budget or whatever. 'If only those nasty politicians hadn't cut our budget we'd have had a vaccine by now.'
All I could think as I was reading this was, “Yeah, sure, let's get that vaccine, but our problems seem to be far more fundamental than that we cut the vaccine development budget.”
Something was really bugging me as I read that interview, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Then a few hours later I remembered the IrishCentral article about Nigeria.
Just in case you're unsure, Nigeria is poor. Really poor. In fact, the budget for the entire Nigerian government is in and around the budget for the NIH – $30bn.
So clearly money is not the key factor in containing Ebola. In fact, it's apparently not a huge factor at all. Organization and dedication seem far more important.
Look, I'm in favor of vaccines. Let's keep working on getting one for Ebola, but vaccines are the rocket science of health care. They require time and money and expertise – the sort of thing the United States of America is great at.
Yet, containing the spread of diseases, like Ebola, is important too. Probably more important than coming up with a vaccine because new diseases require new vaccines that take a lot of time to develop. There will always be a need for good practice when it comes to containing such diseases.
And that's not rocket science. In fact, it's not a lot different than following the directions on a self-assembly chest of drawers. You do what you're supposed to do, in the right order, to completion and you'll accomplish the task.
I don't want to hear about politics either. 'Republicans this' and 'Democrats that.' You know what? There are different political views and philosophies – deal with it. Nigeria dealt with their issue despite their near 50-50 split between Muslims and Christians.
I also don't want to hear another word about budgets. Not now, not until this Ebola crisis has been contained. Nigeria managed to do that with their Ebola outbreak. The United States of America still has not.