10/21/2014 05:37 am ET Updated Dec 21, 2014

Rational Altruism Against Ebola

It may seem surprising that there has been a deluge of international press coverage of the recent outbreak of Ebolavirus: In fact, this disease where it does occur, unlike many others, starting with cholera, causes many fewer deaths. Its media impact, though, is justified on the basis of its appalling aspect, by the absence of vaccines or drugs and by the fact that it can become even more scary, and soon affect our countries.

Everyone in the West subsequently focuses on the emergency response, by barricading themselves in and closing borders. Often through measures using the greatest media coverage as opposed to being effective, believing that isolating Ebola-affected nations would be enough.

This is absurd: If airlines discontinued air travel in and out of the Ebola-stricken countries, soon they would no longer be able to receive the resources to live and control their own borders; the virus will then spread to all neighboring countries. Will then air travel from Abidjan, Lagos, Accra and Dakar be banned? All this will be in vain as well: Let there be no mistake, people in those countries will always find ways to come to the rest of the world through a thousand and one ways and transit bases.

Consequently, the problem needs to be looked in another way, by providing these countries urgently, in our own interests, with the means to control the Ebola epidemic. This means that first of all, sending as many health workers as possible, volunteers and well-trained, including those in the military, as the Cubans did, who have sent some 450 medical and support staff in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which would correspond to 12,000 for the United States (who announced the mobilization of 4,000 military health workers) and 22,500 for the European Union (which has left the burden up solely to NGOs for the time being, except for some members of the British military medical service). It would be to the European Commission's credit whose mandate comes to an end, to propose and explain to the Member States that in this, as in many other instances we Europeans have an interest in being altruistic; that rational altruism is the most intelligent form of selfishness. And only in this way can we be protected from this danger.

This example of the urgency of a rational altruism is not only that of an altruism towards our contemporaries, elsewhere, but also to the next generations, here. In particular, in the case of Ebola: If this disease has developed, while it has been known for decades, it is because we did not anticipate it would be a threat in the medium term, which was obvious. WHO is not free of criticism. And more generally all those who have done nothing to encourage pharmaceutical companies to invest more and faster in all aspects of research on this disease.

It is very late now but not too late to face the task at hand. Who is doing so? Who is financing it? Over what time frame? Again, far more substantial means and resources would be necessary than those devoted today.

On a more general note, it is an opportunity to recall the importance of dealing immediately with issues that will have an impact in the distant future: Public debt, climate, Ebola all refer to the same logic: It is in our interest to deal immediately with issues that the next generations will face. Because the next generations, it is ourselves, 20 years from now.