Public health depends on the public

Published 10:42 pm Saturday, October 18, 2014

To the editor:

The ongoing Ebola health threat developing in the United States suggests that we are a selfish, complacent and arrogant people.

Only a short time ago, we were convinced this was a West African problem. There was no way this could become a problem for highly developed western nations with the most advanced health care available to mankind.

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Now, it is our problem too, and we are repeating some of the same mistakes the struggling African nations made that caused this outbreak to become an epidemic. And our actions or inactions could move the current Ebola threat to pandemic status.

Despite our government’s support for the West African nations being devastated by this virus, our elected officials have been complacent in their response to the threat it poses in our own country.

Federal and state governments are failing to take sufficient measures to limit the spread of Ebola. They are not seeing what is unfolding in front of them, are refusing to recognize the potential of this virus, and are making decisions at a glacial pace, while the threat outpaces reaction.

Our elected leaders are placing politics ahead of leadership. Instead of limiting freedom of movement of those exposed, establishing quarantines and reducing or eliminating access to America, they are encouraging business as usual — nothing wrong here.

That approach overwhelmed West African governments’ limited capabilities, and it placed the burden of response and containment on health care systems that were quickly overwhelmed.

The same is happening in our country now. We need only to look at what is happening in Texas to realize have not adequately respected this threat to our nation.

We have a responsibility to require elected officials to make timely decisions when our safety is at stake.

But our responsibility does not end with demanding that elected officials lead. We also have a responsibility to each other. We need to respect the threat.

Ebola is here, yet we have people carrying on as if they had been exposed only to the flu. In the early 20th century, that virus killed millions. Ebola’s impact could be far greater

We know the precautions to take if we find ourselves faced with exposure. We have the advantage over our predecessors ravaged by influenza in 1918, yet we carry on with hubris and negligence.

It is selfish, criminal and immoral to knowingly have intimate relations with another if you know you are HIV positive. Is it not equally selfish, criminal and immoral to travel commercially if you know you have been exposed to Ebola? We have so little respect for the power of this virus that we place others at risk just so we don’t lose that plane ticket or cruise we’d purchased.

As citizens of West Africa found out, business as usual contributed to turning a local problem into an epidemic. Those people have certain beliefs they were unwilling to let go of that complicated containment. Now there are more than 4,000 people dead.

Our only defense against selfish behavior that unnecessarily exposes us all to risk is the individual responsibility we each have to the collective security and safety of this nation.

It is time we thought seriously about our actions in relation to our fellow citizens.

Our country has diligently prepared for the possibility of an infectious disease epidemic or pandemic. Good people in government and the private sector have taken this potential threat seriously for years, but clearly there are seams in some of the plans to contain, counter and eliminate the threat.

As the Ebola health threat evolves, people in positions of authority will make mistakes based on their limited information. I have faith that, given time, the nation’s leaders will do the right thing for our security, but these people must move with a greater sense of urgency and decisiveness.

There is also evidence to suggest my fellow citizens are capable of great sacrifice and caring for others in need. We need to apply those characteristics to the current threat. Think about your fellow American before you do something selfish.

Time will tell if the current Ebola threat becomes an epidemic or pandemic in our country.

 Jim Parrington