The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans are similar in that most of the victims are people of color.
Where Katrina immediately captured our nation's attention, killing over 1,800 people, Ebola's effects are less understood than those of a weather disaster, but these two issues are identical in another way: They both expose a weakness in what the rest of the world thinks is an otherwise impenetrable suit worn by the U.S. government.
With the many slip-ups by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical staff at hospitals that have already occurred, I wonder what would happen if an epidemic of greater, more contagious proportions landed on U.S. soil. It would be Katrina all over again, except it would be an international disaster where folks lose their lives while some of the greatest medical minds in the world fumble the proverbial football before getting things right. In this case, instead of having a universal protocol and a central figure within our own government to take charge, we heard crickets chirping. Now, instead of a centralized conductor of information and policy who is familiar with the practice of medicine, we get an Ebola czar, Ron Klain, a lawyer whose experience is in managing the affairs of the vice president.
Of course U.S. politicians reacted to this crisis as ignorantly, with as much gunning for restrictions as we could have expected: Deny Africans from affected nations access to the United States! Most Americans think the threat of disease is contained to what many see as primitive Sierra Leone and Liberia.
News stations did what I figured they would, abandoning all common sense and not getting an educated point of view on the virus. It is their fear mongering that has largely gone against the information provided by doctors who are trained to deal with infectious diseases and public health.
In all of these special reports, as sensational as they are, almost no one is asking why a vital position within our government has remained vacant. Where is our surgeon general?
According to the surgeon general's website:
As the Nation's Doctor, the Surgeon General provides Americans with the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of illness and injury. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act designated the Surgeon General as the Chair of the newly formed National Prevention Council, which provides coordination and leadership among 20 executive departments with respect to prevention, wellness, and health promotion activities.
The Surgeon General oversees the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS), an elite group of more than 6,800 uniformed officer public health professionals working throughout the Federal government whose mission is to protect, promote, and advance the health of our Nation. ...
The Surgeon General is nominated by the President of the United States with advice and consent of the United States Senate for a four-year term of office. The Office of the Surgeon General is part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Even if the average American couldn't care less about the politics of their personal doctor, the fine folks we have representing us in Washington, D.C., do care about the politics of the nation's doctor.
On Oct. 10, 2014, The Daily Beast's Roland S. Martin penned a piece asking the same question I just asked: "Where the Hell Is the Surgeon General?" Martin's piece highlighted the crux of why the position is not filled:
November 14 will mark the one-year anniversary of President Obama appointing Murthy as surgeon general, replacing Dr. Regina Benjamin. Murthy had his Senate confirmation hearings in February, but since then? Nothing. All we've seen is the kind of bullshit political games that come to define this cesspool known as Washington, D.C., which does more to drive good people away from public service.
What are the crimes Murthy has committed? He hasn't kissed the ass of the National Rifle Association, and has called for gun restrictions in order to keep more Americans healthy.
Our nation deserves to have a captain at the helm of our medical ship. We need a person who is not a politician but a health provider who can take very complex and confusing health speak and turn it into something the public can understand.
For the sake of our next disaster, the kind that apparently does not matter when it is happening to folks without white, fair skin but comes to matter when it later does happen to them, one that spreads like wildfire and is more easily contracted, we need someone with proven medical experience and aptitude in control.
So I again ask the question, but this time to our nation's leaders: Where is our surgeon general, and why allow selfish politics to endanger our country's health?