A lot more Africans are going to die from infection with Ebola. At least tens of thousands, maybe even millions, before the virus burns through the most susceptible parts of the West African population.
Do you really care?
I didn’t think so.
The do-gooders out there sense that lack of empathy. That’s why the op-ed pages are filling up with their dramatic depictions of the oncoming disaster, and demands that we—we rich white people, maybe behind the fig-leaf of the UN or something—just do something about Ebola, right now, before it’s too late…like this guy in the NYT the other day:
What is not getting said publicly, despite briefings and discussions in the inner circles of the world’s public health agencies, is that we are in totally uncharted waters and that Mother Nature is the only force in charge of the crisis at this time . . . .
If we wait for vaccines and new drugs to arrive to end the Ebola epidemic, instead of taking major action now, we risk the disease’s reaching from West Africa to our own backyards.
What—you didn’t find that convincing?
I admit, though, that I paused to sort of ponder and admire the boldness of that stupid claim, “Mother Nature is the only force in charge of the crisis at this time.” As if Africans were just passive savages—and as if their culture were irrelevant to all this.
What really is not getting said publicly, even though it is really true—because saying it would seem insensitive—is that the Ebola epidemic is preying upon the particular vulnerabilities of certain African populations. Those vulnerabilities include a relative lack of hygiene in burials and medical settings, overcrowding, superstitions that impede sensible policies, inability to manage quarantines, lack of strong civil infrastructure, and so on.
The Obama Administration, sagging in the polls, is leaning on the CDC to look like they’re taking Ebola seriously—a big banner about it screams from the top of the agency’s home page. But click onto the CDC’s main info article and you read almost immediately that: “The outbreak does not pose a significant risk to the United States.”
I agree that the virus might mutate significantly as it grows in all those human hosts. Conceivably strains could emerge that infect via respiratory droplets. But that jump in transmissibility is widely considered unlikely, and in any case, as the virus passes through more and more human hosts it is likely to become less virulent—because natural selection tends to favor strains that stay in their hosts and keep them ambulatory (i.e., not very sick) and infectious for longer. If African hospital and burial practices were not such strong enablers of transmission, the virus would have far less evolutionary “incentive” to sicken and kill its hosts.
Another thing that is not getting said publicly—and probably will never be said by anyone in the MSM—is that the vulnerabilities of Africans to epidemics like these owes something to the short-sighted “compassion” lavished upon them by the West over the past several decades.
There has been a huge amount of aid to Africa, including medical aid—remember those American hospital workers in Liberia that almost died of Ebola a month or so ago? And yet what has all that aid achieved, other than to stunt Africa’s growth? Paul Theroux once wrote a great essay on that subject, among other things remarking of Malawi where he had been a teacher with the Peace Corps:
If Malawi is worse educated, more plagued by illness and bad services, poorer than it was when I lived and worked there in the early 60’s, it is not for lack of outside help or donor money. Malawi has been the beneficiary of many thousands of foreign teachers, doctors and nurses, and large amounts of financial aid, and yet it has declined from a country with promise to a failed state.
How has aid hurt Africa rather than helped? Among other things it has probably given an artificial boost to the population without improving the culture that, in the long run, must sustain that population—thus making it vulnerable to shocks like the Ebola epidemic. But perhaps the worst impact of all the busy Western do-gooders has been on Africans’ belief that they can grow and manage their societies on their own. “The patronizing attention of donors has done violence to Africa’s belief in itself,” Theroux wrote in his piece.
In this sense Ebola is the West’s responsibility. But if the West were to learn its lesson, it wouldn’t go charging in to try to save the day—it would stay away, now and for the foreseeable future, and let Africa develop on its own, or at least without continued Western meddling. It may be hard for people to think in this coldly logical way now, but—as was the case for the Black Plague in medieval Europe—Ebola could end up being a hugely important motivator for African self-improvement.