Friday, October 17, 2014

What Can We Learn From Senegal?

Senegalese health worker preparing to treat Ebola patient.  Senegal has eradicated Ebola from within its borders.
The World Health Organization announced today that the West African country of Senegal is now free from the Ebola virus.  

As you may not recall, back in August a man from Guinea, who had contracted Ebola, slipped across the border and into Senegal, probably in the hopes of obtaining better treatment than he would in his own country.

Sound familiar?  Yes, it's a very similar story to that of Thomas Eric Duncan, who slipped into the United States after being exposed to Ebola, presumably because he hoped he could get better treatment here.  

That's where the similarities end, unfortunately.  In the Senegal case, the authorities acted swiftly.  They quarantined the patient, quickly tracked down 74 people who had been in contact with him, then isolated and monitored them.  They also temporarily closed border crossings between Senegal and Guinea.

In the end, the man improved under Senegalese hospital care, fully recovered, and returned home on September 5.  Now, 42 days have passed (twice the disease incubation period), and no other cases have appeared.  

It was a complete victory in the sense that one infected person came to the country, the system responded, no one else got sick, and the patient himself lived.  

Contrast that to Thomas Eric Duncan, who didn't receive care right away, who died from the disease, and who infected at least two other people (and counting) beside himself.  One of those two people got on a plane, potentially infecting more people.  

What made the difference?

Well, Senegal is a poor country by Western standards, though relatively well-to-do by West African standards.  The United States is a wealthy and powerful country by any standard.

When the Ebola case in Senegal occurred, the government immediately requested assistance from the World Health Organization, as well as the help of international aid organizations.  A rapid, well-coordinated and broad-based effort stopped Ebola in its tracks.    

The United States, however, tends to be run by overeducated honkies who are convinced they know everything.  They don't need any help, and they don't need to hurry.  Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), certainly fits this bill.

"Don't worry, baby.  I got this."  Thomas Frieden of the CDC.

In August, he was touting how the CDC was going to send 50 health care workers to West Africa to help contain the spread of Ebola.  By then, Thee Optimist and many others were calling for a much larger response.

Then he spent weeks describing how no one with Ebola could possibly slip into the United States, and even if they did, any hospital in the US could easily deal with the case.  These statements were so incredibly wrong, as wrong as possible, that there's not much else to say about them.

Worse than the inaccuracy of the statements was the air of utter confidence, entitlement and arrogance with which they were uttered.  

Frieden is a man who is apparently unaware that desperate people do desperate things, whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and that much of the health care available in the United States is hardly better than that found in some Third World countries.  

If anything, what our snow flake leaders could learn from Senegal is a little touch of humility.   

Senegalese Health Minister Awa Marie Coll-Seck, modeling the outfit she wears while cooking for the grandkids on Sunday afternoons.  The Senegalese government's Ebola response has run circles around that of the United States government.

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