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Ebola a much-needed wake up call for the West

Preparing to enter Ebola treatment unit. Photographer: Athalia Christie  CC BY 2.0 President of the World Bank, Jim Kim, got it right when he said last night of the international community:

It’s late, really late… We were tested by Ebola and we failed. We failed miserably in our response… Every developed country should be prepared to send trained medical staff to West Africa… We don’t need to stop all travel from these countries. It’s going to be impossible to stop people. The way to stop the flow the patients from these countries getting to the rest of the world is to have programmes that will treat people (in their home countries) and increase survival dramatically. It’s possible.”

But it isn’t nearly happening. The WHO reports already 3,900 deaths in West Africa from Ebola, though with no sign that the epidemic was being brought under control.

What is causing consternation in the Western nations however is the death of a man in Dallas after arriving from Liberia where he had been in contact with an Ebola victim, a Spanish nurse who has become the first person to have contracted the disease outside West Africa, and now the death of a Briton from Ebola in Macedonia. Globalisation has opened up a scale of international travel which is virtually unstoppable – unless the World Bank President’s radical proposal is implemented. But that’s the rub. The cost will be huge. Another World Bank study published yesterday predicted that the economic cost of Ebola could reach $33bn over the next 2 years if the virus spreads to neighbouring countries in West Africa. If the first tentative signs of its spread outside Africa could conceivably turn into a world pandemic, the cost can hardly be imagined.

The northern world has failed miserably even more than Jim Kim has complained of in its response to climate change. Of the £100bn promised at the G9 summit in London in 2009, less than £1bn has been delivered, largely because the victims of climate change have so far been located in the southern world. The blowback of the consequences went from North to South. Now that the blowback from the South is threatening to hit the North, perhaps a new understanding of the international realities will begin to seep through the blandness and indifference of the ultra-rich North to the still very poor south in an increasingly polarised world. It is a lesson that needs to be learnt, and not just about Ebola. The numbedr of migrants prepared to risk death to escape war, poverty and disease in the south has tripled in the Mediterranean alone to over 110,000 in the last 3 years, alongside the 6,000 migrants who have died trying to cross into the US and the 1,500 who have died trying to reach Australia. In the latter case the rich countries have sealed their borders. With Ebola they cannot. It can only be resolved by reducing world inequality.

 Image credit:Preparing to enter Ebola treatment unit by Athalia Christie

One Comment

  1. david morris says:

    Except, Michael, the death in Macedonia has nowt to do with Ebola.

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