What Should We Make About the Ebola Crisis?

It sounds like an exotic African name.

A sense of urgency, even panic, is gripping the world as the Ebola virus, the scourge of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, are beginning to spread elsewhere. Since this latest and most serious outbreak began in March 2014, 4,000 people have died. First identified in 1976 and named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this outbreak is causing some great global concern.

The President of the relief organisation ‘Doctors Without Borders’ declared that the situation regarding Ebola is ‘deteriorating faster, and moving faster, than we can respond.’ Furthermore, it is not just a health issue; people in West Africa are being quarantined without some of life’s basic necessities. Thus, it is also morphing into a humanitarian crisis, too. Remember, if more panic sets in and the virus spreads, much of our western human rights will be at risk, too. Governments will give people no choice, where they go while they live and how they will be disposed of if they die.

Ebola is spread by bodily secretions and blood, but it is not airborne. Treatment can involve maintenance of oxygen and blood pressure, proper hydration and electrolytes. Unfortunately for impoverished Africans, health workers don’t have proper protective clothing or clean syringes, thus making the spread even faster. Apparently, even the corpse of an Ebola victim is still toxic and can spread the disease if not handled properly. In this environment, false rumours and mythology about the virus are also causing more problems and massive complications.

On September 16th, 2014, US President Barack Obama announced Operation United Assistance to help West Africans combat the disease. It is a supreme humanitarian mission. Soldier will have no direct contact with the ailing; they would help build facilities and help make protection garments more accessible to health care workers.  In other words, international assistance is required to help West Africa through this crisis.

The likelihood of Ebola spreading is minimised, since most of the victims are poor Africans. The ones who could spread it are western health care workers and missionaries, who have the finance to fly back to their home countries. Unfortunately, they are carrying the infection with them

Two US missionaries contracted the disease at its initial outbreak and returned to the United States for treatment. They received a very mixed response: some applauded their courage at standing in harm’s way in order to service others. However, they also were criticised for their quixotic behaviour, bringing with them a problem America can do without. One conservative columnist said their missionary zeal would have been better expressed by staying and ministering in an increasingly hostile post-Christian America, where Biblical values have been attacked for the past half century by the cultural civil war.

While Ebola is capturing the headlines, we need to remember that there are other ferocious diseases out there which are killing more people and costing more money. For example, tuberculosis is a treatable, preventable disease and the global rate of infection is falling. However, even so, in 2012, 8.6 million people were infected and 1.3 million died. The economic cost: $12 billion. Three countries that are greatly affected by TB are all aspiring regional powers: Russia, China, and India.

Malaria infects 200 million each year with a death rate of 630,000. This is a big drop from the 2 million annual death figure from the past, but it is still significant. Remember other recent scourges:

SARS (2003): 8,000 sick and 774 deaths;

H5N1 or ‘bird flu’ (since 2003) 650 sick and 386 deaths;

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (recent) 837 sick, 291 deaths;

H1N1 or ‘swine flu.’ This was declared a pandemic in 2009. About 284,000 died, however, this is a similar rate to those who died each year from the common flu.

It is right and proper that governments and health organisations take the threat of Ebola seriously. However, we need to be careful to avoid exaggeration and sensationalism in reporting this serious issue. We do ourselves no favors by accentuating one problem, while ignoring those that are much bigger.

From a Biblical perspective, remember that the 10 plagues of Egypt where inflicted by the LORD God Himself as a judgment against the gods of Egypt, whom He wanted to show as impotent and dead. Jesus Christ also gives early warning in Matthew 24:7 (KJV & NKJV) that some of the signs of His second coming include famines, earthquakes, and pestilences. Despite much medical advancement and the eradication of diseases like polio and smallpox, we are not immune from many things, like Ebola, normal flu, or even the common cold.

With so much uncertainty and concern, the most important thing you can do to secure your physical, mental, and emotional health, is to invest in your spiritual life and put the Kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33). Our times, like everything else, must be put into His hands and kept there.


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