In face of health crisis, a political response

In face of health crisis, a political response

With all that is going on in the world and America today, I feel that we are reliving the Ten Plagues that visited the Egyptians 3,500 years ago. To paraphrase a popular saying, so much to talk about, so little space available.

One cannot mention plagues without referring to Ebola, which is being compared to the Black Plague. I am not medically trained, therefore my reactions to the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola-related events are from a lay/political observer’s perspective.

Ebola, despite the current spotlight, has been with us since 1976, when it first appeared in Central Africa. Thus, contagious disease specialists have had almost four decades to study it. And yet the public is justified in its frustration over the seeming contradictory statements that are made by those in authority.

The president said the chances that Ebola coming to the United States are remote, but two weeks later, the disease was in the country. The head of CDC says you cannot get Ebola as a passenger on a bus, but at the same time says an Ebola-infected bus passenger can give you Ebola. We are told that we have adequate protocols to detect and treat people with Ebola, only to be told later that the protocols are inadequate. But what good are protocols when either the infected person lies — as with Patient Zero — or trained medical personal ignore their own symptoms or seek and get approval from CDC for air travel, as did one of the infected Texas nurses? 

At present, the big issue is quarantine. Thirty countries have banned travel to and from Ebola-infested areas of West Africa, but the administration refuses to do so on the grounds that it would affect global commerce and transport of healthcare workers. Apparently, global commerce was not an issue when the administration prohibited flights to Israel during the recent Gaza hostilities.

Quarantine is a tested technique when it comes to the control of infectious diseases, from childhood diseases to tuberculosis. When we had controlled immigration, the first American an immigrant saw was the public health officer. If the officer suspected an infectious disease, the immigrant was quarantined. We are not willing to do this with Ebola. However, Nigeria, which restricted or banned air travel from Ebola-stricken countries, last week was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization.

Is it any wonder that the president’s credibility with the public is low?

A New York doctor, just returned from treating Ebola patients in Africa, reported to authorities symptoms of what turned out to be Ebola, although in the days before he took various subways, walked on the High Line, which is a big tourist area, and went bowling. 

The New York metropolitan area is the most densely populated metropolis in the United States. No wonder, the governors of New York and New Jersey considered the CDC protocols inadequate and mandated that all medical personnel retuning to the United States via Port Authority airports to be placed in mandatory 21-day hospital quarantine. Illinois and Florida have followed suit.

This has provoked a political dust-up between the governors and the Obama administration, which pressured the governors to rescind their quarantine decision. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, capitulated, allowing asymptomatic people arriving in New York to self-quarantine at home and receive compensation for lost income. New Jersey also allows at-home quarantines.

The first person subject to the mandatory quarantine, a nurse who arrived from Sierra Leone, was placed in a tent set up outside a Newark hospital. She has emerged as the public face of the opposition, calling the treatment she received “inhumane.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said the nurse would be released if the CDC approved. Apparently, it did.

We now have an Ebola czar, not someone trained in medicine and public health, but a political operative with close ties to the administration. Ron Klain is a former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Biden and Gore. He oversaw the administration’s economic stimulus program, and arranged for President Obama’s ill-fated photo op at Solyndra, a government-backed alternative energy concern that was soon to go bankrupt.

We are in the middle of a public health crisis, not a political one. The administration’s appointment of a political operative in this delicate position suggests where its priorities lie.

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