Opinion: Ebola at Trent University!

First off, I have to apologize for that deliberately misleading title. I thought I would try my hands at official journalism and piggy-back off the infamy of a terrible epidemic.

You see, it’s my job as a journalist to perpetuate the disinformation that has embraced the globe in a state of misguided fear.

This has been the case for the coverage of Ebola. Through no fault of its own, when Trent University decided it was necessary to put an Ebola P.S.A. on myTrent, it became clear that our media outlets have failed to tell the proper story.

Instead, they’ve embellished the terrible reality of this crisis and created a state of misinformation and fear.

It’s easy enough to understand why this happened. I believe it can be characterized by an old journalistic catch-phrase: If it bleeds, it leads. The more violent and horrific a story is, the more coverage it gets.

Ebola plays right into this old adage as it’s the absolute definition of horrifying. Patients with Ebola suffer from terrifying and severe symptoms.

More often than not, those who contract the virus will die from it within weeks. There is no vaccine for Ebola and there is no cure.

At the time this article was written, lives taken by the current Ebola outbreak were near 2,300; though it’s surely more by the time you are reading this.

The World Health Organization listed 4,293 confirmed, probable, and suspected Ebola infections in West Africa.

There’s definitely a story here, but it’s not the story that’s being told.

The global fear-mongering would have you believe that this virus is knocking on our door – ready to spread across Canada the way it is spreading across Liberia.

But this global fear-mongering ignores the fact that Ebola is very difficult to catch.

In no way am I trying to minimize the absolute severity of Ebola, but it can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms.

Those most at risk are caretakers of the infected and those who are handling the bodies of people who died from the disease.

If you don’t fit into these two categories, you have a very, very small chance of contracting Ebola.

There are many deadly diseases that are far easier to catch. Malaria, for instance, is spread through the bite of a mosquito and is responsible for the deaths of 627,000 people a year.

Why is Malaria not all over the news then? One theory is that Malaria is no real threat to Canadians –  but neither is Ebola.

The truth is that if Ebola were to make it to Canada, which is not plausible at all, president of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim and Harvard medical anthropology professor Dr. Paul Farmer are confident that it could be contained. “There is no doubt that the health systems in place could contain and then eliminate the disease,” they state in their self-published article.

There is also a good chance that if somebody were to be infected in Canada, they wouldn’t die.

You’ve probably heard about the 90% mortality rate, but that number is simply wrong. That number is either lazy journalism or purposeful disinformation. Whatever it is, it’s wrong.

Ebola in past outbreaks has had a mortality rate of 90%.  In the current epidemic, the number is somewhere between 50% and 60%.

Still incredibly devastating, but significantly lower than what’s being fed through the media. Again, that number would be even lower in Canada based on our ability to treat patients.

There is really very little to fear in Canada, but the story being told by the global media is that we should be afraid of Ebola because of what’s happening in West Africa.  What’s being neglected is why is this having such a drastic effect in countries like Liberia? Unfortunately, that’s a story of inequality and inequality doesn’t sell papers.

The reason that Ebola has been so devastating in a county like Liberia is because of a devoid health system that’s unable to respond to the severity of the virus.

Prior to the outbreak, Liberia only had an estimated 50 doctors for a population of 4.3 million.

According to Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, it’s estimated that a facility treating 70 patients needs at least 250 health care workers – as originally reported by Geoffrey York in the Globe and Mail.

Treatment facilities fill up and overflow as soon as they are open. In an interview with Democracy Now, Dr. Paul Farmer says in order to end this epidemic, there needs to be a “…smart, compassionate quarantine.” Dr. Farmer emphasizes in the interview that in this type of quarantine, there’s a much higher chance the infected will survive.

“…if you’re bleeding, you get blood products. If you’re hypotensive, or your blood pressure is low, you get IV solutions, right?  That’s not what’s happening in these Ebola centres,” says Dr Farmer in the interview. “…Why would there be such a massive variation in case fatality rate?” he expands.

This type of smart, compassionate quarantine is well beyond the capabilities of the Liberian government however.

This reality, when paired with inefficient government strategies, has resulted in many calling for the Liberian president to resign.

While the actions taken by the Liberian government are surely up for discussion, the fact is that in order to stop the spread of Ebola, there needs to be international action.

According to World Bank president Jim Yong Kim and Dr. Paul Farmer in their article, this epidemic can definitely be stopped. It just requires, “…international organizations and wealthy countries that possess the required resources and knowledge to step forward and partner with West African governments to mount a serious, coordinated response.”

Not because we’re afraid, but because it’s what needs to be done.