Fearful when we were Secure — A Reflection on Ebola in the US and Africa

I learned about America’s first confirmed case of Ebola while perusing Twitter this afternoon. Initially, the news did not strike me as overly significant. After all, Tom Brady was benched last night. Until a few hours ago was, Ebola was nothing more to me than a glanced over story on the Buzzfeed side bar. That attitude immediately changed when I learned the yet to be identified individual who had contracted the disease was hospitalized a few miles from where. Indifference immediately evolved into fear.

In the subsequent few hours, I treated Ebola like it was the major topic for a looming midterm. I studied it, clung to the news and listened to doctor’s hold press conferences as if I knew the medical terms each referenced. I constantly refreshed my Twitter feed and when that strategy stopped producing breaking news, I took to Facebook. Of course, #Ebola was trending on both platforms.

And then it hit me: I should have felt secure and grateful, not fearful. I am privileged to live in a country where an emergency response was nearly flawlessly implemented at the local, state, and national level within minutes of confirming a man had contracted Ebola. One man. Within hours, his family and the medical staff he had come into contact with were being monitored by health officials. One man. Even the ambulance he was transported to the hospital in was quarantined. One man.

Yet, that one man’s home country (or at least his last known place of travel) and its neighboring nations have seen over 6,500 individuals infected with Ebola. More than3,000 of them have died a slow, painful death. Those children, parents, friends, and family members lived in true fear. In Africa, Ebola is more than a trending hashtag. It is a plague with one ambition: to kill.

Neither the U.S. nor Africa have access to a proven cure for Ebola. Such treatments are still experimental at best. So why such a difference — one population sharing fear via social media, and the other dying in tents?

It comes down to access. Access to organizational processes that contain a disease and prevent it from spreading. Access to basic shelters. Access to clean water systems. Access to leadership in times of fear.

I’m proud to live in Dallas and thankful for today’s emergency medical response. Unfortunately, I wasted too much time being afraid to be part of the earlier solution. I’ve written that post in an effort to change that. Now is when I stop using hashtags, and start doing a meaningful conversation.

What can we do to implement the same type of emergency response, prevention, and containment in countries plagued by Ebola that we saw in Dallas today?