Ebola: fears, truths, answers, and actions

We are getting a lot of news about the ebola virus.

Yes, it is extraordinarily deadly and outbreaks can have a case fatality rate of up to 90 percent. Yes, it has now spread to another country, Nigeria, And triggered some fears-but, so far, no diagnoses-in New York. The death toll in Africa is now approaching 900. Yes, resources from UN agencies and the United States have been mobilized to respond. And yes, Donald Trump, not previously known as an expert in medicine and public health sent some tweets suggesting that a patient with Ebola now undergoing treatment at Emory University Hospital should be kept out of the United States.


Well, it is now time for friends of “The Donald” to send him some tweets suggesting he relax and directing him to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new infographic about ebola (see above). Local health authorities are spreading the same message.

Dr. Trump’s (it is Doctor Trump, isn’t it?) fear-mongering isn’t surprising. Disease outbreaks in the past have led people to flee their Philadelphia homes, they’ve led authorities to quarantine immigrants and members of minority groups, and they’ve propelled the stigmatization of victims. Epidemics have given rise to cockamamie ideas about how to treat victims, and they’ve allowed the greedy to take advantage of the fearful by selling them useless treatments.

So, some might say, why should this disease outbreak be different from any other? I would argue that we can and must learn from the past and do better.

So, Dr. Trump, let me suggest that instead of tweeting you should donate to the global Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund, that you write your elected officials about making sure they support adequate funding for the CDC, and that you publish some editorials asking for more United States investment in African health care institutions and organizations. After you’ve done that, feel free to tweet your friends and encourage them to follow in your footsteps.

Listen to a WDEL-AM radio interview with Janet Golden about the history of ebola.

Read more about The Public's Health.