Ebola: A tale of health care systems

One could argue that many of the victims of Ebola in Africa are as much victims of poverty, due to the poor nature of health care in Africa. This is threatening to wipe out an entire generation of young doctors and nurses in West Africa. Hence why Western assistance vital, both to contain the virus and stop a global pandemic, but also to prevent any more serious long term damage to already impoverished states.

That said the health authorities in Nigeria and Senegal both deserve quite a bit of credit for their quick thinking and clever detective work, which help halt the outbreak in both countries. In both these nations initial cases were quickly investigated and a ring fence thrown around anyone potentially exposed. Both are on the verge of being declared disease free.

Of course one has to contrasts this with the events in Texas. If you believe the horror stories about US health care they will tell you about paramedics who are more skilled in finding credit cards and checking health insurance than actually treating patients. The tales coming out of the US reveal something of a farce. We hear stories about poorly trained and equipped health care workers, of a person running a fever and prior exposure to Ebola being allowed to board a commercial flight.

In many respects you do have to wonder how well the US health care system would cope with a serious disease outbreak. For as our libertarian tea party types would likely discover, disease does not respect economic boundaries. Indeed we have the irony of ex-US presidential candidate Rich Perry, blaming Obama and the federal government for being too slow. I mean surely Obama should have spent the last few years doing something about America’s chronic health care problems…oh wait he did only it was Republicans like Perry who tried to stop him!

As events in Africa have shown, once a virus takes root, it’s very difficult to stop. Perhaps they might want to think about then when next denouncing Obamacare.

Ebola’s only briefly appeared in any UK patients, generally those flown home for treatment. But it is perhaps topical to bring it up given the release last week of a report on the future funding of the NHS. These suggest that the chronic underfunding of the NHS in recent years now needs at least an extra £8 billion a year by 2020 to set right.

Clearly this means that something is going to have to give. Either cuts in other areas of the sort one doubt even the Tories would be happy with, or taxes going up. But I suppose it boils down to the question of what sort of health care system do you want. While Ebola might be a fairly minor risk to the UK at the moment, there are plenty of other things that are a more serious long term risk (pandemic flu, heart disease, cancer, etc.) and having a robust health care system is therefore essential.

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3 thoughts on “Ebola: A tale of health care systems

  1. Good reflection. I have a friend, a senior nurse, living in Sierra Leone and very involved in Ebola care, and another friend who worked for many years with Aids patients in Africa. Both would say that poverty. ignorance and poor governance are the major factors in creating the conditions for the spread of a horrific illness like Ebola.

    Totally agree about Obama!

    I do think that patients should take more responsibility in this country for trying to stay healthy. It’s outrageous that so much money goes on preventable diseases linked directly to smoking and overeating. It’s also ironic that we should be spending so much on treating obesity etc that there is very little capacity for helping to prevent and treat potentially fatal diseases like Ebola. Difficult to enforce I know, but something needs to happen!

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    • The flaw for Republicans is that disease, nor things like cancer, respects economic boundaries. Once it gets established, anyone can get it, regardless of how much you send on health care. And also regardless of expense you might still succumb to the illness (70% fatality rate for Ebola I believe).

      This probably explains the paranoia gripping the US right now over Ebola. While we in Europe can have confidence in our health care system being able to cope, given that many Americans don’t have any access to Health care, they can’t rely on it.

      Indeed my suspicion is that if there ever is a global pandemic of a disease, its first victim will be private health care systems such as those in the US.

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  2. Also worth reflecting on Cameron’s pandering to the Daily Mail mob by making non-British pay to use the NHS. And what happens if some student/tourist/Asylum flies into the UK with Ebola, doesn’t want to be charged for healthcare, so doesn’t go to hospital until he/she finally collapses from the disease on a London tube?

    The risk to the country just to keep a few bigots happy is not to be underestimated.

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