Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lisa's Thoughts on Ebola & Western Media

I feel like our cultural selfishness has never been more obvious than in the way the media circus surrounding the spreading of Ebola has been reflecting it back to us. Why are people freaking out? A few have pointed out that it seems strange we are not nearly as concerned by other much more common causes of death. The psychology of the current hysteria is simple and sad:

Because we are selfish. 

We are only worried about ourselves. Because, unlike Malaria or TB, Ebola does not have well-tested and widely available treatment. Holy Shit, if it comes here... it can actually get ME. It can actually break through our bubble-wrapped state of protection, our psychological distance from the rest of the world, from the most common killers in the world - the ones that only really threaten your life if you were unfortunate enough to be born in a poor country. The majority of coverage has really exploded since a man died of Ebola on North American soil. That's when we decided shit was real. Over 1 million people die from Malaria each year and most of them are children under the age of five years (Unicef). It's estimated that almost 1 million died from TB last year (WHO). "In low-income countries, nearly 4 in every 10 deaths are among children under 15 years, and only 2 in every 10 deaths are among people aged 70 years and older. People predominantly die of infectious diseases: lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria and tuberculosis collectively account for almost one third of all deaths in these countries." (WHO) 

But we won't be mobilized to demand our politicians take action if we have the medicine and the infrastructure to keep us safe here at home. And accusations of action or lack of action on the part of our politicians to stop these (preventable) deaths won't be highlighted by national news organizations. Because it's not about saving lives, we don't actually care about the death toll unless it includes someone we know. We ignore, we say its not our problem, remain unphased and uncritical of why our politicians choose their international aid recipients and their battles based not on saving lives, not on supporting the kinds of infrastructure and education that could literally save millions of lives, but on economic opportunity. 

The truly sad, scary thing is that, if a reliable form of treatment and/or vaccine for Ebola is developed soon, we will once again succeed in isolating ourselves. We'll feel safe and we'll go back to our regularly-scheduled programming and forget that the same lack of infrastructure and access to health care is still in place in much of the world. Some estimates say that the number of infected by Ebola will top 1 million by December 2014 (BBC). Now that we've had a fresh chance to be faced with our fragile mortality (and what it feels like to live somewhere where there is no medicine to treat you), we will actually keep the pressure on our politicians to do something? 

Or will Ebola become the next Malaria once the pharmaceutical protections are in place here at home and we no longer feel personally threatened?

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