Ebola in America

By, Rick Beitman

Sunday, October 19, a mass celebrating Nigerian culture took place at 11:00 AM at St. Mary’s Basilica in Downtown Phoenix. During the prayers of the faithful, a Nigerian woman offered intentions for those afflicted by the “Ebola disease” in Igbo. – Nigeria is one of the West African nations impacted by the latest outbreak.


Courtesy: Rick Beitmann
Courtesy: Rick Beitmann

West Africa has become synonymous with Ebola in the recent media furor over the recent infection. However, now Ebola has come to the U.S., with the first diagnosis of the disease on U.S. soil occurring in Dallas. Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national, also became the first fatality in the U.S., succumbing to the illness on October 8.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the current epidemic has killed thousands and is the largest known to date, impacting Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In addition to the U.S., there have been localized cases in Nigeria, Senegal, and Spain. – According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the mortality rate average is about 50 percent, though the current epidemic is around 70 percent.


Gerald Fletcher, MBA student from Ghana, worked in the medical profession prior to attending Thunderbird. He voiced his concern: “[I am] very worried, especially concerning the incidence rate, death toll, and relative unpreparedness of health systems and governments for a pandemic of this scale.”


While no FDA-approved drugs exist to combat Ebola, there are two experimental treatments, such as ZMapp, which has been effectively used to treat Americans who contracted the illness. Some American patients, such as Dr. Kent Brantly (the missionary infected while in Liberia), have been administered these drugs and subsequently recovered.


Courtesy: Rick Beitmann
Courtesy: Rick Beitmann

No world event occurs without impacting the student body of Thunderbird School of Global Management in some way and this outbreak is no exception. There have been concerns over the disease as two teams gear up for TEM Labs in Ghana and Chad beginning next module. Matt McConaty, MBA student from Denver, Colorado, believes the media has promulgated fear and perhaps overstated the case.


McConaty, who will join the TEM Lab team in Ghana, stated: “It’s fear-mongering. The U.S. press sensationalizes news tremendously. [Ebola is] not really a threat to most, though the alarm is huge. The U.S. has more resources and facilities [to combat the disease]. It is worrisome, but not as much as the media conveys.”


Anick Bizimana, MBA student from Burundi, is a part of the TEM Lab in Chad. Seeing the bigger picture, she views it more as a challenge: “It’s yet another hurdle that the African continent must struggle to overcome. Finally, the [African] economy is picking up. The world is starting to notice the growth potential; there is a lot of FDI with average GDP growth around 6 percent. [This news] feels like a throwback to the old days when it was the ‘Dark Continent’, ridden with war, famine, and disease.”


Barry King, an alumnus of Ghana, has been affected personally; Dr. Ameyo Adadevor of Nigeria, the relative of a close friend, passed away from the illness. What bothers King is a lack of prevention efforts in affected countries:


Courtesy: Rick Beitmann
Courtesy: Rick Beitmann

“It is unfortunate so many lives have been lost, mainly due to the avoidable lack of screening centers. – I am actually more concerned about the lives being lost now and those to follow, simply because there is really no cure, per se, and even worse, our culture generally does not promote the kinds of preventive measures needed – the key of which is ‘isolation’ – families don’t take kindly to that. Emotions are prioritized over common sense and logical reasoning.”


Mokay Kamara, MBA student assigned to the Chad TEM Lab, comes from Sierra Leone, one of the most heavily affected countries. While no one he knows has contracted the virus, his whole family is affected both economically and socially. Of the current situation, Kamara feels that, “It is deeply sad and disturbing. It shines a light on the dramatic social imbalance and economic disparity that exists on our planet. [The U.S. cases are] equally sad, but somehow it has captured the attention and presence of the international community – so hopefully they will act with more urgency.”


While the disease and disparity seem dire, this alone is not cause for despair. – Fletcher believes Ebola will one day be eradicated like smallpox. Bizimana was not surprised Ebola made its way to the U.S., taking the view that the world is a “global village”. She however is hopeful:


“ Ebola is no longer just a deadly disease found in the deep jungles of the equatorial forests. I am hopeful that there are a lot of well-intentioned people with means and resources; the Bill Gates Foundation has already stepped forward and donated $50 million to the cause. Others will follow suit.”


Courtesy: Rick Beitmann
Courtesy: Rick Beitmann

Bizimana believes a global containment strategy could work, but it would require buy-in from all those concerned, such as developed nations, international organizations such as the WHO, and affected African nations, of course.


Ebola has alarmed the American public, but the situation is far from hopeless and recoiling from Africa is not the solution. King does not see it as just an African issue or an American issue, but a global issue. – There are resources and new innovations. As long as there is international goodwill to accompany it, the world has a lot more to combat Ebola than just prayer.

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