In 2003, SARS swept across China and streets were deserted. The World Health Organization recommended officials warn people having fevers to stay off international flights. Hong Kong used infrared scanners and thermometers to take the temperature of more than thirty-six million passengers. Approximately nineteen hundred were found to have a fever. None developed SARS.
In time for the 2004 July Fourth barbeque season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jumped the gun and announced two cases of “inconclusive” Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease. Only after making the ominous announcement did the agency later announce, “Oops, never mind.”
As an international traveler during the 2003 – 2004 era, most medical establishments succumbed to the fear so broadly that one had to verify their whereabouts for the past five years (or lie) just to donate blood. The process became so convoluted I vowed never to donate again – and haven’t.
And that’s my point. All it takes to drive people nuts are a few irrational statements. Regardless of the fact there’s been only three (3) U.S. diagnosed Ebola cases, politicians have turned the African Ebola epidemic into U.S. campaign fodder by demanding a halt to immigration, with many lawmakers suggesting the U.S. close borders for those traveling from West Africa. Even the White House created an Ebola czar for a crisis that, for all practical purposes, doesn’t exist.
Turning the tables, in June 2014 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed four (4) people died from Mad Cow Disease. All deaths were linked to an infection acquired outside the U.S., with two coming from the United Kingdom and one from Saudi Arabia. Yet no politician has espoused a similar panic and demanded U.S. close its boarders to neither United Kingdom nor Saudi Arabia travelers. Why not?
Overall, our response to pandemics, whether SARS, avian influenza, MERS, or Ebola, is predictable. First, we have a ‘cow’ (panic). Then we forget.
We forget malaria, tuberculosis, and H.I.V. have killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide this year. We disremember Alzheimer’s kill some 500,000 yearly while cancer takes 20,000 daily. Then there’s the flu. We fail to recall more than 200,000 people are hospitalized annually for flu-related complications, with an estimate of 49,000 having perished since 1976. The list goes on and on.
In recent times, none of the diseases mentioned have rivaled the attention of Ebola. None has a national plan, political champion or czar. If there’s an Ebola czar, why not an Alzheimer czar? How about a heart disease czar? Or maybe a gun czar? Should there be a Ferguson, MO police brutality czar? Seems right since statistically speaking, there’s been over 5,000 civilian deaths by law enforcement officers since 2001.
Propagating fear goes without saying. In an extreme case of the irrational, the New York Times reported paranoia spread in Payson, Arizona after a missionary returned from Liberia. While completing a self-imposed quarantine, rumors circulated throughout Payson the missionary tested positive and would be evacuated. One radio caller suggested torching the home.
From a Buddhist and medical perspective, Ebola is an unfounded fear, rooted in anticipation. We are told by some ill-informed dimwit to anticipate future pain or discomfort. In reality, our fears remain unfounded and produce only hysteria. I suggest we refocus and live in the moment. Continue to set our course for daily life but burn the map of fear. In other words, make plans, have dreams and goals – but don’t become over-attached to the current ‘crisis of the moment.’
Ebola is a serious disease and deserves serious, thoughtful solutions—not fear and ignorance.
Categories: Life Lessons