In class, we discussed how Hurricane Katrina was a disaster, but that it was not “natural”. It was not natural, because it could have been prevented by the government. Also, certain groups of people were affected by Katrina because of the unequal access to resources. Similar to this, the Ebola outbreak that has currently swept the headlines could have possibly been prevented.
In the article “Ebola 2014. Chronicle of a Well-Prepared Disaster” by Guillaume Lachenal, the Ebola outbreak is compared to a disaster movie. Guillaume wrote, “[the Ebola crisis] is also not an organisational, financial and political “challenge” for the international community and humanitarian workers. Quite the opposite: the Ebola crisis is the result of two decades of political choices and actions. It is a disaster, well-prepared not only by the systematic undermining of African health-care systems by neoliberal reforms, but also by the strong mobilisation of public and private public health stakeholders to bring about a new era of “global health”. Global health was a big advocate for pandemic preparedness in Africa, and made sure that the government was putting on full-scale, elaborate drills in case of a pandemic. However, these drills would have not have helped in a real situation, “due to the woeful lack of equipment, troops, police personnel, and medical infrastructure”.
Also, after 9/11, a lot of research funding went towards bioterrorism and emerging diseases. Contrary to popular belief, Ebola was one of the diseases that was studied: “since the first epidemic in 1976, the virus was an extraordinary means of obtaining funds for fundamental research in virology (notably the construction of high-security laboratories, beginning in the early 80s) and to render preventive and social-action medicine obsolete. No press release on ‘bio-security’ would fail to mention the Ebola virus as it embodied the quintessential emerging threat”.
The government was running simulations, and research on Ebola was being done, so what went wrong? What went wrong is that a large amount of funding went towards these scenarios and research, so in turn very little went to African institutions. This means that many health clinics, institutions, etc. had to pay the price, and often with a lack of personnel, there was little that was able to be done about current, real diseases that were affecting the African population. As stated in the article, “[the simulations and research] pushes the preventive approach of “old” public health services into the background, thus laying the groundwork for old epidemics like cholera (25 000 cases in 2013 in Africa) to resurface. The advent of global health is nothing but the last phase of a destructive historical sequence initiated by structural adjustment plans in the 1990s, which morphed African hospitals into a Mad Max scene of ruin and rust”.
In the end, if the government hadn’t paid so much attention to hypotheticals, they might have actually been more prepared to take on the Ebola virus and possibly might have been able to contain it.