Tony Abbott is fiddling while Ebola burns.
Australia is once again a laggard in its global responsibility. As he
has done with climate change inaction, Tony Abbott is failing
Australians and failing the world.
What do AIDS and Ebola have in common? They share a capacity and potential to be a runaway scourge due to ignorance, complacency and bigotry. The response to both has been plagued with hysteria, misinformation and head in the sand denial.
In their manifest epidemiological stupidity, former U.S. President
Ronald Reagan and Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott share the
podium. Reagan delayed any concern about HIV until the toll of the epidemic had soared. Tony Abbott has seemed unmoved by the plight of Africans and has been missing in action on Ebola and declared unequivocally no teams of Australian medical experts and personnel will be deployed to West Africa.
As with AIDS in the 1980s, the current plague of Ebola is being underestimated and ignored.
Tony Abbott has pledged a meager $18 million to assist West Africa.
This is puny when compared to the recent estimates of the current deployment in Iraq are expected to soar to $400 million dollars. It fades to insignificance when compared to the $1 billion spent to provide offshore detention this financial year.
In summary, Australia’s contribution to fighting Ebola is spectacularly insignificant.
Had strong global action been taken to contain Ebola in March, we could have contained the epidemic. So says Laurie Garrett winner of 1996 Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the 1995 Ebola outbreak in Zaire.
The death toll in West Africa is estimated, by the World Health Organization, to be near 4,500 and climbing daily. And by Christmas, the death toll could be rising by 5,000 to 10,000 per week, warns the WHO.
is a defensive coping mechanism. It is life saving. It can mute
unbearable reality until we can muster the strength to cope. It can keep
hope alive against the odds, enabling us to strive to survive, or wait
for help. But like the minor tranquilizer Valium, it is best used in moderation. Denial can worsen any catastrophe that humans or fate can construct. The ‘unsinkable’ Titanic ignored iceberg warnings and had insufficient lifeboats. Science warned of global warming decades ago, when action would have saved dollars and lives. Denial has meant little to no effective action has been taken.
Abbott is waiting until things get worse — until it reaches our region. He is keeping his powder dry until it reaches Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands.
That is a mad attitude. It’s like waiting for a small brushfire to turn into a mega conflagration.
The New York Times reports
prompt responding has paid off for Nigeria so far. Once a case of Ebola
was diagnosed, protective nursing processes were instigated. All those
in contact with the patient were tracked down, isolated and monitored
through the incubation period.
The WHO has declared
this a success, declaring Nigeria Ebola free, with the proviso that
Nigeria must remain vigilant as Ebola continues to spread rapidly in
Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
In contrast, by the time Ronald Regan had even acknowledged AIDS, many potentially preventable infections and deaths had occurred.
So what are the similarities between AIDS and Ebola?
- AIDS and Ebola do not stay within borders and are global phenomena.
- Border patrols cannot stop them.
- The victims are being stigmatised.
- Ignorance and politics have increased the infection rate.
- Rampant fear has been its own epidemic.
- Hysterical misinformation is prevalent.
- Both impact directly initially on groups seen as less important by western white leaders — Africans and homosexuals.
- Most likely rate and toll of infection
could have been restricted and contained with strong early action.
Issues related to this are complex and cultural, but developed countries
could and should, lead the way.
- Both diseases are viruses transmitted via blood and other body fluids and are not airborne.
- The poor in poor regions with poor health systems are most affected, but the affluent west is not immune.
- Pharmaceutical companies are less engaged to find cures or vaccines due to lack of profitability — chronic illness pays best.
- AIDs and Ebola can wreak huge havoc on communities for generations.
‘mission lag afflicted’ Tony Abbott has refused to send health workers
to help. Gays didn’t vote for far right Christian Republicans and West
African brand compassion is apparently not a vote catcher.
At least the Ebola crisis has roused the Federal Opposition from its ‘we agree with everything’ torpor. Deputy leader and foreign affairs spokesperson Tanya Plibersek
has called on the Australian Government to send in medical teams,
declaring that the best way to protect Australians is to contain Ebola
in West Africa.
This, like other calls, have gone unheeded.
President Obama has committed troops on the ground to construct hospitals and assist aid workers.
Médecins Sans Frontières project manager Brett Adamson returned recently from Liberia to strongly denounce Tony Abbott for his weak response to the Ebola crisis.
“It ‒ Ebola ‒ is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Even a small
team from Australia could protect communities. Excuses about wanting
‘iron-clad’ guarantees of evacuation are absurd. The Health Minister
says that people would die on the 30-hour
journey. He- the minister- obviously has not seen a case of Ebola. You
don’t die in 30 hours. Meanwhile the death rate has doubled while they
Aid organizations, including Save the Children, along with the Australian Medical Association and other health experts, are calling for Tony Abbott to do more.
Tony Abbott, who was more than ready to send troops into dangerous
zones in Ukraine and Iraq wants a no risk guarantee for “our people”,
saying it would be
“… irresponsible of an Australian government to order Australian personnel into this very dangerous situation.”
Beyond the obvious hypocrisy, Abbott is either callous, ignorant, or just not up to the job.
What is needed is not just a token donation of money, but people on the ground.
Also needed is the provision of expert training and (even simple)
equipment — including protective gear, spray bottles, chlorine and
The letter to the world
from Liberia’s President sums up the perfect storm that has fostered
the flood of contagion of the Ebola virus — years of war, civil unrest,
weakened infrastructure, an exodus of health specialists, overwhelmed
health services, sheer poverty and lack of world support.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf writes about Ebola:
'This fight requires a commitment from every nation that has the
capacity to help – whether that is with emergency funds, medical
supplies or clinical expertise''
'From governments to international organisations, financial
institutions to NGOs, politicians to ordinary people on the street in
any corner of the world, we all have a stake in the battle against
Ebola. It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a
message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for
themselves against an enemy that they do not know, and against whom they
have little defence.'
As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says, ‘we all have a stake’. Put simply, Tony Abbott’s message of mean spirited disinterest and misguided self-protection is costing lives.
Surely, we can do ‒ and are ‒ better than that.
You could do worse than to follow Lyn Bender on Twitter @Lynestel.
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