Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ebola or ALS? Which is an urgent "challenge"?

Four weeks ago, a friend "challenged" me with his ALS "ice bucket" video and I couldn't be bothered with that challenge.  As I wrote then,
How would I justify contributing to ALS as a higher priority compared to a contribution to fight any one of those neglected diseases that affect millions and kills millions?
Since that post, Ebola has become even nastier that an entire country is shutting down:
Sierra Leone is holding a country-wide experiment: For three days, no one is allowed to leave their home.
It's part of the country's strategy for controlling the deadly Ebola virus. While people across Sierra Leone stay at home, teams of workers go door-to-door, educating the public about the disease.
The effort got its shaky start on Friday.
The streets were empty in the heart of Freetown, the capitol. The only sound came from a few street sweepers and a police van blasting a song from an old speaker.
The lyrics: "Ebola is real. It's a terrible disease, and there is no cure."
The United Nations has declared this iteration of the Ebola outbreak to be a "threat to international peace and security":
The council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on states to provide more resources to combat the outbreak.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned an emergency meeting of the council that the number of Ebola infections was doubling every three weeks.
More than 2,600 people have now died in the worst Ebola outbreak on record.
One columnist (I have lost track of that source) noted that more people have now died from this Ebola outbreak than from the events of 9/11, and called it Africa's 9/11 that should require global attention as much the collapse of the WTC towers did.

When such is the emergency, have you seen any "challenges" on Facebook regarding ebola, unlike with "the feel-good health story of the summer"?
The contrast between the Ice Bucket Challenge and this summer’s other major health story, the worst Ebola outbreak in recorded history, could not be more striking. While thousands of Americans soak themselves to benefit ALS research, Ebola has become a public-health catastrophe in West Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions. The virus kills up to 90% of its victims by interrupting the blood’s natural ability to clot, causing terrible bleeding and shutting down vital organs. 
While the following interpretation might be harsh, I unhesitatingly agree with it:
Ebola’s main victims – poor, black, African – are part of a demographic that, to put it mildly, is of little interest to mainstream America. Consider, for example, the different perspective on August’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which followed the police shooting of a young, unarmed black man. Surveys reveal that 80% of African-Americans thought the issue had raised important questions about race in the United States; only 44% of whites agreed.
So it should not be surprising that the $110 million that the Ice Bucket Challenge has already raised for ALS is almost 50% more than the US government has committed to fighting Ebola, despite public-health leaders’ pleas for funds. Maybe the ALS Association, which sponsored the Ice Bucket Challenge, would consider allocating a proportion of its money to help the effort to end the Ebola epidemic. Such a move would be unprecedented, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
If only all those who proudly showed off their ice-bucket videos will pitch in with making Ebola a priority, and match their contributions to ALS with comparable--or even higher--contributions to fighting Ebola!

Barack Obama announced the largest humanitarian deployment by America’s armed forces to fight an infectious disease. Saying that the epidemic “is not just a threat to regional security—it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down”, the president began the process of sending some 3,000 American troops to set up treatment centres with 1,700 beds and to train local health workers.
A little late, yes.  But, as the old saying goes, better late than never.
 In August the World Health Organisation estimated that it would take nine months and cost $490m to contain Ebola. Now it reckons the cost has risen to over $1 billion. The longer the world prevaricates, the harder and costlier it will be to contain this outbreak.
The CDC USAID has linked its page to a list of organizations to which you can donate and help fight this outbreak.  I bypassed that and donated to Doctors Without Borders.

I challenge you to donate.


Ramesh said...

Ebola is a deadly threat to the WORLD; not just to Africa. I disagree that it is essentially a threat to the poor in Africa. All it requires if for a carrier or two to land up in the US and go unnoticed for a few days. Enough for it to cause devastation.

I am not sure the best way to help is by contributing money. As far as I know, there isn't a money shortage - because the urgent need is not to do research on a cure, but to prevent it spreading. That really requires volunteers and education of the population with a deep distrust of western medical doctors - I listened to a moving account in a BBC programme by a MSF volunteer speaking of the challenges and an actual survivor of ebola (thankfully one of the 10% ). That is why the US action of committing troops to fight the disease is probably one of the finest acts of the Obama Presidency. Your government didn't have to do it , but it did. That is the best of America on show.

Sriram Khé said...

It is a fact that it is geographically right there in a part of Africa. Yes, it can spread fast thanks to modern transport. But, the origins are not in Europe or South America. The immediacy of the threat is, by and large, only to a chunk of African countries.

And, yes, it requires money. For at least a couple of reasons:
1. It is like how donations are needed after a major cyclone batters Bangladesh. In this case too in addition to the treatment itself, there are plenty of other things that need to happen. If you look at the list of NGOs that I linked to, via USAID, you will see the kinds of different activities that are being pursued. All those require funds.
2. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders have spent so much of their resources on this that replenishment is needed for them to continue to do what they do.

The US stepping up will, in a way, also means that the US will bear a good chunk of the costs. But, don't minimize the need for donations at this point.

Sriram Khé said...

More reasons why donations matter:

"The latest WHO projection for November is 20,000 cases, along with the worry that the disease could become endemic in Africa. A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention model, which assumes that Ebola cases are underreported by a factor of 2.5, projects 1.4 million people could be infected with Ebola by January. This worst-case scenario could become a reality, experts say, if the situation in West Africa continues to deteriorate."