Ebola presents a new National Security Threat to America
The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is rapidly becoming a security threat to the United States. While the developed world is probably capable of handling a small-scale outbreak internally, the incident in Texas demonstrates a gapping hole in our preparedness to deal with the global nature of infectious disease.
Without sounding alarmist, it is realistic to state that the world is ripe for a possible pandemic. The Third World continues to suffer from a lack of education, a poor national infrastructure (which includes healthcare) and often unsatisfactory sanitary conditions. Furthermore, much of Africa and the Middle East, has remained embroiled in conflict for decades. Such conditions are conducive to the rapid transmission and potential mutation of disease, should they gain a foothold in the human populace. However, the particular characteristics of the modern world create the specter of a local outbreak becoming a global disaster.
While concentrations of human activity in urban areas is nothing new, the massive co-location of people seen in parts of Asia and Africa are of a scale unimaginable when the plague swept Europe in the Middle Ages. India and China both have a population in excess 1.2 billion. China has two cities over 20 million and fourteen over five million. The Indian subcontinent has five cities over 10 million people and Lagos, Nigeria has a population of 17 million. Under such circumstances, the incubation and transmission of disease seems inescapable.
The issue that elevates the threat to countries of the West is globalization. We are closely linked through trade, business and travel. These factors are not new. The spice trade brought the plague to Europe via ship-borne rats. The difference is that the spread took years. Today, with intercontinental air travel, transmission times can be cut to hours.
Despite the existence of such logical interconnections, the United States in particular appears wedded in an isolationist mentality more suited to the 19th century. It seems we have rationalized our lack of intervention in a naïve belief that our two great oceans still protect us from harm. One would think that 9/11 would have disabused us of this notion.
Against reason, we seem to cling to an “it can’t happen here” mentality. Our invincibility was probably further reinforced when the two infected Americans who worked with Ebola patients were transported to the US for treatment. They recovered, as of course they would, once they reached the safety and sophistication of “our” medical system.
We are complacent, despite the growing Ebola epidemic in Africa. Our ability to screen and prevent potentially infected persons from travel is virtually non-existent. Thomas Duncan was able to travel from West Africa to the United States unimpeded. When he arrived in an Emergency Room with classic symptoms, he was inadequately treated. It is understandable how this could occur. A host of more minor diseases, including a common cold, present the same symptoms. However, the fact that he had traveled to an area with infection and the information was known to healthcare workers yet no appropriate action taken speaks damningly of our protocols.
This is further witnessed by the fact that two nurses who treated him were subsequently infected. Well established hospital sterile techniques and known protective protocols simply failed. Even the fact that a relatively large team of health workers was directly involved seems to indicate our lack of understanding. It would appear that about twenty percent of those involved are now infected. This is a failure rate perhaps worse than that in primitive conditions in Africa where the disease is rampant.
It gets worse. One of the infected nurses was even allowed to board a commercial transport despite the fact that she treated the Ebola patient and coworker had contracted the disease after having done so. Suffice it to say that despite the protestations to the contrary, America is unprepared for its latest attack.
The solution, while perhaps dramatic would seem warranted. First, our deployment to Africa of teams to set up treatment centers should be expanded. Our best hope is to contain the epidemic before it breaks widely free. The peril if the infection spreads outside of our ability to control it is every bit as dangerous as possibility that a true radical Islamic State could be set up in Iraq and Syria. Military force won’t stop this, but it is a war.
Second, sweeping aside political correctness, we should initiate a public travel ban on the most heavily infected countries. Special permission can be authorized for critical economic and medical reasons, but travel must be restricted. It is time for us to call this what it is “a potential threat to the (health) security of our country.”
Perhaps the most critical step is to educate our people. Start with health workers and first responders. This is underway but the pace is unacceptably slow. Hospitals, particularly urban medical centers, must shake their complacency and become draconian in their sterile techniques. Equipment, facilities, trained personnel and protective gear must be ready. Furthermore, they must establish contingency plans and protocols must be rehearsed. You do not go to war if you have never trained your soldiers, at least if you want to win.
In the end, the old definitions of security and what constitutes a threat are outmoded. We must begin to prepare ourselves for the real “new world order.”