By Boh Herbert
Liberian-born Eric Thomas Duncan died early Wednesday in a Texas hospital. He has become the first Ebola patient to have lost his life in the USA.
Mr. Duncan fought to the last, medical staff testified. But, alas, he lost his battle to the deadly Ebola virus, which has now killed over 4,000 people and sickened more than 8,000 others in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In even less than the eleven short days he was in America, Mr. Duncan became the Face of Ebola in the United States. We saw his image so frequently on the TV sets in our living rooms that we have all become Duncan. You are not alone in feeling like you know Mr. Duncan even more than you really did.
With thousands dead already, one more Ebola victim is obviously one death too many. Unlike the 4,000+ Africans who have died from this pandemic, it seems a lot more than one person died when Mr. Duncan took his last breathe at that Texas hospital. Our worst fears of Ebola have now played out and have been amplified by how quickly the virus claimed Mr. Duncan's life.
Even without knowing him, millions prayed, wished and even expected Mr. Duncan to survive. His death dashed our hopes that we will win the battle against Ebola fast enough for more of us to feel we are back in charge - not Ebola. His quick passing dashed hopes, raised in millions of Africans, Americans and others around the world that he became "the very lucky one" just by making it to the USA.
More out of frustration than anything else, some have suggested that Mr. Duncan might have survived longer if he stayed on and sought healthcare in Liberia. It does not help that a recently published survey in 46 states of the USA concluded that 85 percent of nurses say they are not ready to deal with Ebola. It adds to the nervous feeling of hopelessness. Alas, even the USA may be unable to delay or turn back the clock of death that the Ebola virus sets off in each of its victims.
It has not helped that accounts from Mr. Duncan's family have suggested that he did not get the same level of care one would have been given if they were white - not black; if they were American - not Liberian; if they had health insurance; if they were not accused by some, including their own president and threatened by the legal system in Texas, for reportedly traveling to the USA despite knowing - the claim goes - that he was already infected.
Beyond the stupidity of some of these accusations, what the world must come quickly to terms with is to admit that Mr. Duncan's travel to the USA shattered - nay, buried - the belief that borders will suffice to keep rich countries safe from Ebola. His death buried the myth that America was ready and equal to any challenge an outbreak would throw at it.
While individuals like Mr. Duncan need to fill out paperwork, seeking prior authorization to visit foreign lands, the Ebola virus ain't applying for any visas. The virus ain't paying any airline fares to fly into any country of their choice. The First World has, hopefully, learned that it cannot neglect diseases in the so-called Third World because they will not kill only the poor.
Obviously, there are neither easy nor ready made solutions to tackle the pandemics of our time: HIV/AIDS, SARs, Ebola, etc. Like HIV/AIDS, the Ebola virus is proving that we will be safe only if we take more seriously that our common humanity is truly one race. We can be our brother's (Duncan's) keeper or we can live with the guilt of failing ourselves by failing our brother (Duncan), his family, and the peoples of Africa.
The West cannot be blamed for every of our shortcomings, though. More than a decade since the violent conflicts ended in these Mano River Union countries, failure to build adequate healthcare infrastructure means pandemics like Ebola will first get worse before they get better. Where, for God's sake, have these and other African governments been when they were expected to provide healthcare as a basic service to their citizens?
Unlike the criminals in power in many African countries and the foreign governments and institutions which help maintain them in charge, Mr. Duncan will be remembered for the last good deeds he performed. He risked and finally lost his life because he offered help to a pregnant teenager in Liberia who was turned away from a hospital and later died from Ebola. How could anyone possibly blame him for doing that? He came to the USA to reunite with his kids - one of them born in a refugee camp in Ghana where he fled during Liberia's bloody civil war. He came to meet up with and marry his fiancée and love of his life. This is a dream you and I would drop everything else we are doing to pursue. He showed up at the hospital once he felt sick, despite not having insurance, and returned when he felt worse. What else could he have done?
Blaming America on this is wrong, too. To date, the USA has pledged to spend the most money ($750 million) and to deploy the largest group of workers (4,000 soldiers) to help build the infrastructure needed to contain the virus. With fear spreading in Texas ahead of any virus spread, we witnessed the amazing people of Dallas who received and cared for Mr. Duncan and his family, including six health workers considered alongside his four close family members as the top ten "at risk" persons. We saw officials ride with his family to a new home, away from public glare. A Christian offered his family a place in the inn. Many continue to show them love. We have them in our thoughts and prayers as we struggle against our own worst fears to keep hope alive in the face of the deadly Ebola virus. In that fight - which must begin in every country long before the first case of Ebola is confirmed - we are all Eric Thomas Duncan.
When News Breaks Out, We Break In. (The 2014 Bloggies Finalist)