With the death of Mr Thomas Duncan shortly after his arrival from Liberia, West Africa, the Ebola crisis has burst into millions of news screens generating deep levels of fear and xenophobia. To be sure, Ebola is a serious health concern, for it has a seventy per cent mortality rate, named after a river in Congo near the first outbreak in 1976, it’s also known as haemorrhagic fever
But to beat back the fear, public officials have been playing down the threats posed by the virus often armed with little more than hope and false confidence. For politics, often more image than reality, is a poor barrier against the seriousness of viruses, disease and death. This isn’t about the Ebola crisis, it’s about the American health care crisis, made possible by a flawed business model that prioritises profit above all other things, even life itself.
Consider this, when Mr Duncan first entered Texas Presbyterian Hospital, he was interviewed by a screener, prescribed antibiotics and sent home, that person, that screener, was more likely than not, not a medically trained health care professional but a receptionist, perhaps armed with a check-list to cover. Chances are, she was perhaps the lowest paid member of staff, until one considers the janitorial workers.
Health: business or human model
This business model, one followed by most institutions in America, is now exposed as ineffective, dangerous, and the least health conscious. That was a business decision driven by the bottom line of money. Money not life. Similarly, the recent crisis has exposed how vulnerable nurses are in this system. For the business perceives them as less valuable than doctors. Hence they are paid less, trained less, protected less, and work more.
Who spends more time with ailing patients? Doctors or Nurses? Who has the closest physical contact with patients? According to published accounts, nurses had their necks exposed and when they complained were told to use tape to cover up. This is a system that protects profits and prestige not people. For doctors, get the most protection; nurses the least.
When Ebola first struck West Africa, the US mobilised soldiers to go there. Cuba, which has advanced bio-technical medical expertise with tropical diseases, sent over one thousand doctors to help heal and treat people. Cuba, little socialist Cuba, has sent over one hundred and thirty five thousand health care professionals to over one hundred and fifty four countries. More than the United Nations’ World Health Organisation. Their Latin American Medical School in Havana, trains thousands of poor medical students from all over the world for free. Not much of a business model, but one hell of a human model.
Mumia abu Jamal was on death row until December 2011, today he remains in prison without parole.