Ebola: Responses and Reactions

As I observe the variety of posts and articles about the Ebola epidemic, I realize I’m starting to get a bit frustrated. I’d like to offer a perspective slightly different from most of the Western world, but please forgive me if I am sounding judgmental.

I was in Nigeria while it was fighting Ebola. A Liberian-American with Ebola had arrived in a very densely populated city, the largest in Africa, leading to 19 other people being infected. (Before you ban me from coming anywhere near you, please note that I was in a region further north, and Ebola never arrived there. For further assurance, I’ve been back in the US more than 21 days… longer than the possible incubation period.)

During my time there, the general fear of the spread of the disease was quite evident. With doctors already on strike because of working conditions (they suspended the strike to address the crisis) and a lack of the advanced medical facilities we have in the US, there was some legitimate reason for fear. But instead of spending time focusing on all the possible things someone did wrong, 1800 volunteers were trained and all possible contacts were monitored.

In the midst of uncertainty and a realistic threat, there was another means of coping: laughter. During one of the chapels, seminary students presented a skit displaying possible extreme and unhelpful reactions that could occur based on false information and fear (see photo below). Oh, the laughter from the audience! Instead of griping, they recognized the need for good information, but avoidance of panic.


Back in the US, the entry of a single case and the infection of two others has caused an uproar. Yes, mistakes have been made and my heart goes out to the medical personnel whose service led to their own sickness. But with the resources we have, containment in this country will not be difficult (if Nigeria can do it, I think we can too!).

What frustrates me, is the contrast between the meager reaction to thousands of deaths in West Africa compared to the extreme reaction to a single one in the United States! Yes, on a worldwide level there is reason for significant concern from all nations: over 9,000 people have been infected and over 4,500 have died!

Why did many of the current strong calls for action in the US wait until the threat approached our comfort zone? Why is the majority of the focus from the general US population on the details in Texas (which are already being investigated and addressed), while entire countries are being devastated?

We wag our fingers at our government and health care system (which I know have plenty of room for improvement), but forget the hardest hit countries whose governments are barely functional and health care systems are practically non-existent: Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, are among the poorest in the world.

The pattern in this crisis is not unique. It’s amazing how our “First World problems” seem to outweigh any concern for the widespread “Third World problems.” How does that fit with Jesus’ calling to lay down our lives, take up our crosses, and follow his example in showing love to those who need it most?

When watching churches spend thousand of dollars to upgrade their (perfectly functional) sound systems, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if priorities shifted to pay more attention to the desperation around the world.

What would happen if each Christian in a rich Western country gave up ONE luxury (e.g. a cup of flavored coffee!) a week, to contribute to the necessities of the millions of starving and sick around the world? If the resourced were used well, we could make an enormous difference!

Please join the discussion in the comments section below!


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    • Dana on October 19, 2014 at 4:03 pm
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    I agree 100% with your conclusion, Emily! I’ve often wished we westerners could realize how many luxuries we consider necessities, and then give up those luxuries — at least some of them, anyway — to invest that money in more urgent causes.

    Just thinking about your questions earlier in the post, I think people have the extreme reaction they do because they’re told over and over again that they, one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world, have one of the best health care systems in the world. And they’re told by government officials and the CDC that the likelihood of Ebola coming to the U.S. is extremely low. So when Ebola finally did enter the country, it was a shocking blow to the confidence people had put in their leaders and the systems they put in place. So I believe a bit part of the public’s reaction has been about questioning the strength of public health policies and practices, realizing that their confidence in the system was misplaced. And I think it’s reasonable for that to be a frightening eye-opener, which people need to process and deal with.

    1. You’ve got some good points in terms of the shock value of the unexpected (although I don’t tend to hear too many people showing a lot of confidence in the government or the health care system). Perhaps that illustrates a rather detached mindset: inside the Western bubble we are “safe” from the problems out there.

      I wonder if it could serve as a wake-up call: how we support and interact with other nations will have ramifications here.

    • Denise on October 19, 2014 at 7:35 pm
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    I have the same heart and view you share here… it is a question I ask over and over. In fact I am often bewildered by the ignorance and seeming indifference to the immense suffering beyond our borders compared with our own problems. Wish I had ability to read more often and catch all your posts!

    • Barbie Murphy on April 22, 2016 at 5:59 am
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    I appreciated your perspective on this and thank you for being so open and honest. My recent trip to Cameroon (for the fifth time) has also opened my eyes to how ego-centric the US is compared to the relational, compassionate ways of developing countries. May we learn about comminity and care from our African brothers and sisters!!

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