THE BLOG
10/28/2014 10:06 am ET Updated Dec 28, 2014

Ebola Victims Need Compassion, Treatment -- Not Prosecution

If you or your child had a painful and fatal contagious disease for which there was no cure, would you do everything in your power to save yourselves -- even if it meant placing the population at large at risk?

While U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that the prospect of me contracting the Ebola virus from the comfort of my home in suburban America is highly unlikely, it is undisputed that the American government must take a more proactive role in finding a cure for the Ebola virus. Yet the response to to the worldwide Ebola crisis seems to have brought out the worst in everyone. Suddenly, it's OK to hysterically attack or prosecute the world's poorest travelers who come here in search of treatment, then shun the medical professionals who try to help them.

America is a nation of immigrants who came here in search of a better life for their families. This was the case for Liberian cab driver Thomas Eric Duncan, who allegedly did not know he was carrying the Ebola virus last month when he lawfully travelled to Dallas, Texas to marry his fiancé and watch his son graduate from high school. When Duncan started feeling sick, he did exactly what he was supposed to do -- he went to the emergency room at a local hospital to seek treatment for his medical condition, but the hospital misdiagnosed him and sent him home.

As Duncan lay dying in excruciating pain, the Dallas County District Attorney released a statement that their office was "looking into whether or not (he) knowingly and intentionally exposed the public to a deadly virus -- making this a criminal matter." If Duncan had recovered, Liberia also had big plans to prosecute him for allegedly lying on his pre-flight questionnaire about his contact with Ebola and bringing the disease to the U.S. (allegations which his family denies.)

Welcome to America, where our condolences are reserved for those immigrants who are educated in health care policy and treatment, and honest enough to die without a fight on someone else's soil.

Although the CDC reports that there have only been four cases of Ebola diagnosed on American soil (Duncan being the only known case which resulted in death), the world's failure to track Ebola cases calls into question the validity of this statistic.

The World Health Organization reports that over the past 38 years, several Ebola outbreaks have been documented in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Uganda, South Africa, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, West Africa, Guinea, Nigeria, Zaire, Senegal, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The World Bank estimates that the average household income in the affected African countries is around $765 per year, and the WHO estimates that the virus proves fatal in anywhere from 25 percent to 90 percent of cases. The WHO estimates that there have been 10,141 diagnosed or suspected cases of Ebola this year resulting in 4,921 deaths in Africa alone.

Even though it would not be unreasonable to assume that over the past 38 years, some Ebola patients have traveled abroad and died undetected in the first world countries unequipped to diagnose or treat them, perhaps the real reason why we have not heard about the domestic prevalence of Ebola is because our health care system only became concerned about the epidemic after the media began shaming sick travelers and the hospitals that were unprepared to deal with them until now.

What WHO's ambiguously broad Ebola death rate range might mean is that for one reason or another, the WHO is unwilling or unable to obtain reliable data on health outcomes for a population that may not be formally reporting the prevalence of the disease. Even if these poor African countries had the resources to track every Ebola case, what would be the point? Who is prepared to respond?

Although the Dallas hospital's failure to properly diagnose and treat Duncan ended in his untimely death and possible spread of the disease, the lack of compassion and outrage expressed for his family's loss is symptomatic of sickly and racist worldwide health care policy that caters only to the interests of corporate profits. The CDC estimates that 109 American children died from the flu last year, another deadly virus for which there is no cure that reaches epidemic proportions nearly every year. None of these children's homes were raided and quarantined by Homeland Security or health officials, the victims were not left homeless and asked to justify to prosecutors why they took the subway to the hospital or went bowling with the sniffles as Ebola patients have been.

The great American Ebola freakout of 2014 seems hardly warranted and only beneficial to those media outlets whose ratings are boosted by their own misleading and damaging coverage of the problem. It seems to me that the American public was OK with Ebola when it was an African problem affecting only black people who were going to die quickly and were too poor to seek treatment in first world countries. Whether the media can change course and begin to help leaders respond to the Ebola crisis appropriately with compassion may turn out to be a true test of how far we have come since the abolition of Jim Crow laws in the 1960's.