Sep 21 2014

Ebola and the real health crisis in America

Mumia abu Jamal’s Radio Essays.

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.

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Sep 13 2005

When ‘Raising Consciousness’ Ain’t Enough

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 11RCN @ 1:50 pm

Column written by Mumia Abu-Jamal

The images of voracious famine leaking out of the steamy deserts of the Northwest African nation of Niger, cuts to the soul’s quick.

Babies barely able to grasp a breath.

Mothers with breasts as flat, and milkless as boys.

Men and women, dizzy with hunger, laid low in the barren dust, awaiting whatever release that either death or food may bring.

Fathers weeping because there is a relentless drought, and there is nothing — nothing — to feed one’s wife, one’s children, one’s aged mother.

This is Niger, 2005, and according to broadcast reports, it will take about 4 weeks, or perhaps more, for any food relief to reach the nation.

It is a telling reflection of the lives we live that here, in the heart of the Empire, there are millions of people who have so much to eat, that the fastest growing health threat is morbid obesity, and it’s equally serious cousin, diabetes. Billions of dollars are spent annually on the latest fad diet, carbo diets, Atkins diets, grapefruit diets, and, if I’m not mistaken, a donut diet (OK — I’m joking about the last one).

But just barely.

What’s wrong with this picture?

How the world is organized, and how the world’s economic business is done, is what’s wrong.

Clearly, some people have too much; others have nothing.

One also couldn’t look face-on at these pictures, without thinking, almost immediately, of the recent worldwide music concerts which were designed to raise consciousness — not money! — about the starving millions in Africa.

As I looked at these famished people, babies so weak and drawn by hunger that they could no longer eat, as one girl’s tender mouth was a nest of parasites eating her tiny body alive, and wondered about the concerts that were designed to raise consciousness about the plight of the starving.

It reminded me that we live in an age when TV becomes, not merely an image, but a fact.

Millionaire musicians stage concerts around the globe, pulling in billions to the international media conglomerates, showing how nice and progressive and caring these stations are, while perhaps 600,000 people, in one country, will starve to death by week’s end.

Madness. Media madness. Corporate madness. Capitalist madness.

With perhaps one-hundredth of one percent of the monies used to stage the broadcast blockbuster event, virtually all of these people could’ve been fed, and saved, to live, at least through the rainy season. No doubt, those heart-rending pictures of human suffering will yet raise billions for organizations, NGOs, and charity agencies, and will continue to do so, long after these specific men, women and children, will have ceased living on this earth. Briefly consider the state of the world’s wealth and poverty:

  • 1. 1.3 billion people lack access to clean water; 1.2 billion live on less than a dollar a day; 840 million are malnourished.
  • 2. More than 20,000 people die each day from hunger-related diseases.
  • 3. The richest three people in the world have assets greater than the combined output of the 48 poorest countries.

[Excerpts from: Seabrook, Jeremy, The No-Nonsense Guide to Class, Caste, & Hierarchies (Oxford/London: New Internationalist/Verso, 2002), p. 11.]

We live in a world where madness passes for normalcy, where the raging logic of the marketplace leaves tens, and hundreds of millions of people, in dire peril.

And the gap between the rich and poor grows exponentially, daily.

Yet, like little Neros, we play musical accompaniments to massacres of hunger, which can be prevented with virtual ease.

But, this is Africa; Niger, poor people, agricultural people. These are expendable people. These are but flickering images on a screen.

Copyright 2005 Mumia Abu-Jamal

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