Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
Disease is a holistic problem that can only be effectively contained and managed through holistic solutions. What the Ebola virus is showing us is that short sighted thinking can literally kill us. The problem that we face now is that our entire world society is more or less set up on an anti-holistic foundation and is therefore incapable of generating the kind of response necessary to properly contain this disease now that it has spread. Nothing helps disease spread faster than an every-man-for-himself mentality, which is the essence of modern capitalism, the driving philosophy behind world economics.
The problem of infectious disease is that the poor are more vulnerable to it than the rich, and less able to manage it or to afford care. It makes disease unprofitable and unappealing to capitalist entities, which must bear the brunt of the problem. But wait, you say. Don’t governments bear the greatest cost of disease? No, they do not. The reason for this is that the best way to contain infectious disease is isolation, which is going to be expensive for someone. To put this another way, if you want to people to stay home or go into quarantine, you will have to do the most anti-capitalistic thing possible -pay them to do it. If you’re not prepared to go to these lengths, you will have an epidemic on your hands at some point. This is a direct result of the capitalistic forces that require people to continually work to avoid losing access to food and shelter. Very few people anywhere in the world are completely safe from this dilemma.
On a personal level this means that if you get sick, you keep working even if you suspect that you’re infected with a deadly virus because the personal penalty of not working is is higher than the personal penalty of getting other people sick. Going into quarantine means losing a month of wages at least while still having to pay rent/mortgage and probably health care too in the meantime. Many people will voluntarily do this, but many others will not in the hopes that they only have a bad flu and they can ride it out. The only way to prevent this latter example is to provide adequate monetary incentives for going into quarantine.
One of the side effects of capitalism is that the objective is to behave selfishly while making altruism someone else’s problem. It’s profitable to do so. This is how most large corporations work. In the U.S. healthcare is mostly for-profit and this has led in the past to hospitals bundling up poor, sick patients, putting them in taxis and dumping them at free clinics to avoid paying the cost of caring for them. This is not what you want your local hospital to do with its Ebola patients, but it is a real possibility. Ebola is expensive to deal with. The proper hazmat suit isn’t that expensive at about $200, and the training isn’t that large a cost, but the implementation of proper infectious disease protocol for a patient is insanely labor intensive.
This guidance contains the following key principles:
- Prior to working with Ebola patients, all healthcare workers involved in the care of Ebola patients must have received repeated training and have demonstrated competency in performing all Ebola-related infection control practices and procedures, and specifically in donning/doffing proper PPE. [Personal Protective Equipment]
- While working in PPE, healthcare workers caring for Ebola patients should have no skin exposed.
- The overall safe care of Ebola patients in a facility must be overseen by an onsite manager at all times, and each step of every PPE donning/doffing procedure must be supervised by a trained observer to ensure proper completion of established PPE protocols.
Proper protocol in other words, requires two people to manage one patient. Even putting one of these suits on and taking it off is a two person job. Incidentally, these hazmat suits are so hot and uncomfortable that a person can only wear one for about half an hour, although a nurse commented to me that they will be expected to wear them for up to three hours. There is a real danger of heat stroke in one of these things. Her hospital bought only four of them.
Common sense and human decency would require that hospitals take all infected patients that come to them in order to ensure the health of the general population. But how likely is this really in a profit driven hospital, given the significant cost of treating Ebola patients? Especially those with little or not ability to pay? The capitalistic response to this problem is both cynical and brilliant. Don’t invest in enough training and materials to fully prepare yourself for an Ebola epidemic so that you can pick and choose patients based on your limited ability to care for them. Send the rest someplace else because you “don’t have the resources.”
Problems like this are undoubtedly compounded in unstable third world countries. It is therefore quite likely that we will see this terrible African epidemic spread to other poor areas of the world before too long. In a PBS interview:
Well, Judy, of course, we all know the only way you are going to have 100 percent for America is to stop the epidemic at its source.
And there, unfortunately, we have some very bad news. Today, for the first time in WHO’s situation — daily situation report assessing how things are moving along, they had to concede they had no data from Liberia. It’s gotten so bad and so extensive that nobody really can even come up with numbers to put forward.
So the numbers you led with, roughly 9,000 cumulative cases and roughly approaching 5,000 deaths, everybody now admits these numbers are not even close to providing a reflection of reality, that it is almost certainly well over 22,000 cumulative cases at this point and approaching 15,000 or 16,000 deaths.
And as this keeps going out of control, it gets harder and harder to even have a glimpse of the reality of the size and scope of the problem. So while we’re very focused here in America on two cases, let’s keep in mind safety for us is stopping something that is orders of magnitude bigger overseas.
The first case was in December of 2013. By August of this year, eight months later, a thousand people had died. Now, two months later we’re up to an estimated 20,000 cases. This is a very scary logarithmic progression. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to describe this disease as out of control at this point. I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect it to begin a serious expansion beyond Africa’s borders before too much longer, eventually reaching and ravaging pretty much every poor place in the world. The Africa problem is on a trajectory to become everyone’s problem because poor people without adequate resources are almost everywhere in the whole world.
The disease will take hold in areas where people wait too long to seek medical care and are ignorant or unable to contain the disease themselves. You can find these areas in every developed country in the world. Even where I live in Silicon Valley, one of the most prosperous places in the entire world, you can find pockets of legal and illegal immigrants, huddled twenty and thirty people in a two bedroom apartment as well as thousands of homeless people squirreled away in hidden shantytowns. These places are disease control nightmares and they are everywhere.
If you combine that with the absolutely enormous number of people barely scraping by who literally cannot afford to be sick and those who are also without access to affordable medical care (in the U.S.) you can begin to see the enormous scope of the social problem we will all have in handling this fast spreading and quite lethal virus.
These will be the areas where the disease first gains a toe hold in first world countries, then grows stronger and then spreads until it’s no longer containable. And whenever we start to get things under control, these will be the places where the cycle starts all over again. To prevent a serious outbreak, we will have to reach out to these people and make sure that they have access to proper medical care and the knowledge to seek it out without negative consequences to themselves, monetary or otherwise.
There is no escape. People move across borders all the time, legally and illegally and there is no stopping that. And if someone has crossed a border illegally, it is not only unlikely that they will seek help, they will also be packed together with other illegals, giving the disease an easy path to spreading. And if they are infected, we will get infected. Illegals hang out with the other poor people. You know who they are: They clean our houses, they watch our children, work in our stores, mow our lawns, shop in our stores and ride our public transportation. They are every bit as much a part of our society as we are. Everyone is interconnected whether they like it or not.
This is why only holistic approaches work. You have to account for everyone and privilege be damned. Can we do it? I don’t know.
The two human traits that can save us all from the worst disease outbreak since the Bubonic plague are unselfishness and altruism as well as treating the spread of the disease in Africa as though it was happening on our own doorstep. We will need these traits in abundance from the rich and powerful as well as the poor and penniless because as Pogo famously said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”