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President Obama got it right about Ebola. Will Australia?

By Noel Wauchope - posted Wednesday, 24 September 2014

In Sierra Leone, six million people were confined to their homes - the country was put into"lockdown" as 30, 000 health workers and volunteers visit homes to explain the situation about the Ebola epidemic. No up to date figures are available on the number of infected people, and recent deaths. In Guinea, on September 18 2014 villagers using machetes and clubs killed 8 healthworkers, dumping bodies in a septic tank. The killers in Guinea apparently blamed the health workers for spreading disease.Sierra Leone has imposed a three day curfew, to try and stop the spread of disease.

With military crises in Iraq and Ukraine, this Ebola crisis doesn't make the news, or even the Twittersphere, especially in Australia. Australia is sending troops to Iraq, and investigators to Ukraine. Not a word about sending people to West Africa.

The World Health Organisation has declared the Ebola epidemic to be an international emergency. USA is sending 3000 troops to West Africa, to set up infrastructure for the medical battle against Ebola.. Both WHO and Obama are calling for other countries to join this effort. Is Australia listening?


Ebola is not like other infectious diseases. It is like the medieval Black Plague, in both its often fatal course, and in its frightening social effects. From 1347 to 1351 the Black Plague killed about 25 million people - about half of the population of Europe. The causes of these two diseases may be different, but the rest of the story is uncannily similar.

The Black Death was predominantly a European epidemic, though it did spread beyond Europe. Ebola is predominantly a West African epidemic Ebola is affecting Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal. Right now, this disease is affecting West Africa in just the same way as the Black Death affected Europe. Without real help, this is heading for a national disaster with global security implications just as dangerous as the ISIS movement.

Obama's approach goes against the tide of prevailing system of dealing with epidemics. The developed world is used to health campaigns driven by market forces, with pharmaceutical fixes. The Ebola battle demands collective action, driven by the public interest.

The comparison of Ebola with the Black Plague is a sobering exercise.

It is hard to exaggerate the long term consequences of Europe's Black Plague. So many workers dead meant that agriculture, industry. education - all stalled. "The result of the plague was not just a massive decline in population. It irrevocably changed Europe's social and economic structure and was a disastrous blow to Europe's predominant organized religion, the Roman Catholic Church. It caused widespread persecutions of minorities like Jews and lepers, and created a general morbid mood, which influenced people to live for the moment, unsure of their daily survival. "

Starvation, poverty, malnutrition conflict and massacres, resulted in the following years, and this was reflected in morbid themes in the arts." (see engraving of the "Danse Macabre) The Political and Social Consequences of the Black Death, 1348 – 1351 It took another 400 years for Europe's population to its pre-plague numbers . (The very long term effects were complicated, and not all negative.)


The Ebola disease starts with symptoms like those of other tropical diseases, flu like, and with a rash. Then in about 50% of cases progresses to bleeding from nose, gums, the gastro-intestinal tract. There may be coughing up and vomiting of blood, and blood in diarrhoea The effect on internal organs is to cause excruciating pain. Blood vessels burst underneath the skin, bringing out welts, that become black, gangrenous.

These symptoms are the same as the symptoms of the medieval Black Death. Some investigators claim that the cause of the Black Death was not bubonic plague, a bacterium transmitted by flea-bites, but in fact one of the five Ebola viruses, transmitted by contact with human secretions.

The surrounding conditions, of crowding, poverty, poor hygiene, lack of clean water in many areas in West Africa are also uncannily similar. People are living in proximity to animals, their food markets are crowded, not sanitary: people are exposed to the entrails of animals.

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About the Author

Noel Wauchope taught science before switching to nursing. She has several post-graduate qualifications, in health informatics, medical terminology and clinical coding. She is a long time anti-nuclear activist.

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