When reports of a new virus circulating in China’s Hubei province first began to emerge, I was cautious about overreacting. I’ve reported on health long enough to know that just because a pathogen is new doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a crisis. Of course, I quickly realized this isn’t just any virus. We’re currently battling a global pandemic unlike any we’ve seen in over a century. But it’s also not the first modern virus we’ve faced. In the past two decades, the world battled Ebola, SARS and more than one major flu outbreak. Those left tragedies in their wake but didn’t cause the same level of societal and economic disruption that COVID-19 has. As a result, they can help us understand this new coronavirus — to capture how unique our new reality is, it helps to look back at similar outbreaks that threatened to upend society, but ultimately stopped short.
As many as 18,000 nurses went on strike Tuesday and picketed in front of Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California to express their concerns about patient-care standards and Ebola. The nurses, who are in the midst of contract negotiations, held red and yellow "strike for health and safety" picket signs. The two-day strike was expected to affect at least 21 Kaiser hospitals and 35 clinics and last until 7 a.m. Thursday. Union officials said nurses are striking over claims there has been an erosion of patient-care standards in Kaiser facilities for months and that the company has failed to adopt optimal safeguards for Ebola.
Maine suffered defeat in its attempts to restrict the movements of a nurse who returned to the state after working with Ebola patients in west Africa, when a judge reversed an earlier ruling. A Maine judge on Friday ruled that Kaci Hickox must comply with monitoring forEbola symptoms, but lifted an order that she stay away from public gatherings and maintain a 3ft distance from others, though those requirements had complied with current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for people in a situation like hers. “[Maine] has not met its burden at this time to prove by clear and convincing evidence that limiting [Hickox’s] movements to the degree requested is ‘necessary to protect other individuals from the dangers of infection’,” chief district court judge Charles C LaVerdiere wrote in an order posted on Friday afternoon.
A nurses union said Thursday it was organizing strikes and other protests against what it views as insufficient protection for nurses caring for patients stricken with the deadly Ebola virus. The nurses have demanded better protection when treating Ebola patients for weeks, ever since two nurses in Texas became infected with the virus while treating Thomas Duncan, a Liberian who fell ill and died while visiting Dallas. "Nurses, who have been willing to stand by the patients whether it's the flu, whether it's Ebola, whether it's cancer, now they're being asked to put themselves in harm's way unprotected, unguarded," said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, based in Oakland. National Nurses United and its affiliate, the California Nurses Association (CNA), said nurses would walk off the job on Nov. 12, at 66 Kaiser Permanente facilities in California, and at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. In addition to the walkouts, nurses at other facilities nationwide would engage in protests on Nov. 12, including picketing and staging bake sales to raise money for hazmat suits for nurses, DeMoro said.
The Ebola epidemic that has struck mainly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea of West Africa and threatens the entire world has killed thousands of people and caused panic to millions of others. As high level officials of the World Health Organization confess, the epidemic has severely expanded over the last weeks and 70% of the people affected die because of the lack of proper healthcare facilities. This epidemic brings in the forefront in the most tragic way the chronic and deep wounds in the African Continent by colonialism, by the continuous plundering of the wealth-producing resources and by the high public debts that keep African states and their economies enslaved to the IMF, the World Bank and monopolies cartels.
The current cases of Ebola in the United States highlight the risk of a serious epidemic that many of us have worried about for a long time. Of all of the industrialized nations, the US is at high risk of an epidemic that could cost hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars due to our fragmented and backwards healthcare system. I quit practicing pediatrics in 2007 because our healthcare system is not designed to improve or protect the health of our population, it is designed to create profit for a few. I decided to try to change that. The three articles below highlight the tragic story of Thomas Eric Duncan who presented to a hospital with obvious risk of Ebola and was mistreated, likely due to being uninsured (he was visiting his son in the US for the first time), the financial picture of the 'non-profit' hospital where he sought treatment and the reality of hospitals run by MBAs rather than health professionals.
In a press release published by National Nurses United on October 3rd a survey of American nurses displayed only 20% of U.S. hospitals were prepared to handle an Ebola outbreak or an Ebola patient. Yesterday, President Obama said federal authorities must: “Take immediate additional steps to ensure hospitals and healthcare providers nationwide are prepared to follow protocols should they encounter an Ebola patient.” Mind you, this comes twelve days after Thomas E. Duncan tested positive for the Ebola virus in Dallas; four days after his death. Mr. President, nearly two thousand nurses from hundreds of U.S. hospitals in 46 states expressed that only 1 in 5 U.S. hospitals are prepared for the Ebola virus. Why would it take you nine days to ensure hospitals nationwide are prepared to follow CDC protocol in handling an outbreak of this stature? Ebola is now a national security threat!
How’s this for a juxtaposition on how nations respond to a global health catastrophe. Check out these two headlines from yesterday’s news: Cuba to Send Doctors to Ebola Areas  US to Deploy 3000 Troops as Ebola Crisis Worsens  Reading these stories, which ran in, respectively, the BBC and Reuters, one learns that the Cuban government, which runs a small financially hobbled island nation of 11 million people, with a national budget of $50 billion, Gross Domestic Product of 121 billion and per capita GDP of just over $10,000, is dispatching 165 medical personnel to Africa to regions where there are ebola outbreaks, while the US, the world’s wealthiest nation, with a population of close to 320 million, a national budget of $3.77 trillion, GDP of $17 trillion, and per capita GDP of over $53,000, is sending troops -- $3000 of them-- to “fight” the ebola epidemic.
The outbreak of Ebola that is affecting parts of Africa is the worst ever seen. The cumulative number of cases stands at nearly 4,000, with 2,000 of those resulting in death — figures that surpass the numbers seen in all previous outbreaks combined. This is an unforgiving virus that shows no mercy. To date, nearly 300 medical staff have been infected, and around half of them have died. The three hardest-hit countries, where cases now number in the thousands and where the capital cities are affected, are in West Africa: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. These countries, which have just emerged from years of civil war, are among the poorest in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the three countries have only one to two doctors per 100,000 people. Guinea’s neighbor, Senegal, connected by an extremely porous border, has also announced a case of Ebola. Nigeria has reported a small number of cases — first in Lagos and now in Port Harcourt, the country’s oil and natural gas hub. An assessment by Nigerian health staff and WHO epidemiologists reveals a situation there with great potential to explode, both in terms of cases and volatile social unrest. Military escorts are needed for movements into the Ebola isolation and treatment center. This fast-moving outbreak has a number of unprecedented features and is delivering one surprise after another.
It's been nearly 40 years since the discovery of Ebola, yet we're dealing with its deadliest outbreak in history and one that is four times larger the first. Back then, in 1976, the scientific community knew nothing about the hemorrhagic fever. Blood containing the mystery virus was innocently sent in a blue thermos to Belgium, where Flemish scientists figured out they were unwittingly handling a violently lethal pathogen, and named it after a river in what was then Zaire. Since then, we've learned a lot about Ebola: that it's spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, that we can stop it by using simple precautionary measures and basic hygiene practices. But every once in a while, these nightmarish outbreaks pop up and capture the international imagination. Worries about global spread are worsened by the fact that Ebola has no vaccine and no cure. Here's what's surprising and interesting about this state of affairs: it is not caused by a lack of human ingenuity or scientific capacity to come up with Ebola remedies. It's because this is an African disease, and our global innovation system largely ignores the health problems of the poor.