When Thomas Eric Duncan died on October 8, shortly after his arrival from Liberia, west Africa, the Ebola crisis burst onto millions of news screens in the United States, generating deep levels of fear and xenophobia.
To be sure, Ebola is a serious health concern, for it has a 70% mortality rate. But, to beat back the fear, public officials have been playing down the threats posed by the virus, often armed with little more than hope and false confidence.
For politics, often more imagery than reality, is a poor barrier against the seriousness of viruses, disease and death.
This is not about the Ebola crisis, it is about the US health care crisis, made possible by a flawed business model that prioritises profit above all other things: even life itself.
Consider this: when Duncan first entered Texas Presbyterian Hospital, he was interviewed by a screener, prescribed antibiotics, and sent home.
The screener was, more likely than not, not a medically-trained health care professional but a receptionist, perhaps armed with a checklist to cover. Chances are, she was perhaps the lowest-paid staff, until one considers the janitorial workers.
This business model, one followed by most institutions in the US, is now exposed as ineffective, dangerous and the least health-conscious.
That was a business decision, driven by the bottom line, of money ― not life.
Similarly, the recent crisis has exposed how vulnerable nurses are in this system, for the business perceives them as less valuable than doctors. Hence, they are paid less, trained less, protected less ― and worked more.
Who spends more time with ailing patients ― doctors or nurses? Who has the closest physical contact with patients?
But according to published accounts, nurses had their necks exposed, and when they complained, were told to use tape to cover up.
This is a system that protects profits ― and prestige ― not people. For doctors get the most protection ― nurses, the least.
When this latest Ebola outbreak first struck west Africa, the US mobilised soldiers to go there.
Cuba, which has advanced bio-technical medical experience with tropical diseases, sent more than 1000 doctors to help heal people.
Cuba ― little, socialist Cuba ― has sent more than 135,000 health care professionals to 154 countries, more than the UN’s World Health Organization.
Their Latin American Medical School in Havana trains thousands of poor medical students, from all over the world ― for free.
Not much of a business model. But one hell of a human model.
[First published at PrisonRadio.org. Mumia Abu-Jamal is a US political prisoner serving life in prison after being framed for the 1981 murder of a police officer. Visit www.freemumia.com formore information.]