The U.S. Role in Fighting Ebola in the Globalized World

by Courtney Sepe

If left unchecked, the recent outbreak of Ebola in the countries of West Africa  increases the risk of an international health epidemic. Ebola has been detrimental to the health and living conditions of those inhabiting the affected region of Africa, which lacks the proper resources to combat such a deadly viral disease. As the world’s superpower, the United States has taken the lead in combating the disease. Yet, such a task remains a daunting challenge in a globalized world. As the epidemic spreads overseas, other countries must contribute to the efforts to put an end to Ebola. In addressing global issues, there must be a state of compromise in which nations must also be sympathetic to another’s traditions and culture. Balancing the technological, economic, social, and cultural issues in a global environment while trying to battle Ebola is challenging for all countries, especially for superpower United States. In combatting Ebola in the globalized environment, the US must assert its superpower status, but it must also recognize its limitations and respect the cultural differences in Africa in order to succeeed.

The United States’ assertion of power can be perceived as a desire to provide leadership and maintain control of the Ebola situation on its own terms. Such a precarious disease as Ebola has begun to run rampant in the countries within West Africa. The recent outbreak of Ebola may have been avoided if the countries infected by the disease had been properly equipped with medical knowledge to combat early signs of the disease or been able to provide healthier living conditions for their population. This gives rise to a question regarding the United States’ role in the fight against Ebola; the question of whether or not the United States, as the dominant superpower, is responsible to lead the fight in attempting to stamp out such a deadly epidemic. In his essay, “The Rise of the Rest,” Fareed Zakaria explores the constraints and various shifts of power in the “post-American world.” Arguing that America’s steps to globalize the world may have led to this terrible outcome, Zakaria said, “The irony is that the rise of the rest is a consequence of American ideas and actions…we counseled them to be unafraid of change and learn the secrets of our success” (Zakaria 623). As African nations increase their interactions with other countries, they have become more susceptible to rapidly spreading diseases, but lack the health care resources needed to handle a possible outbreak. In a sense, this can be seen as a reflection of the US’s responsibility to support the countries that have followed its lead toward globalization in areas of advanced health care technology. Abandonment would mar our credibility as a leading nation, yet our involvement does take a toll on our own country’s wealth and society. We not only spend money to fund equipment, mobile labs, and relief commodities but also expose our own medical personnel to such a disease with the chance of bringing traces of Ebola back to the US. The US, as a result, is put in a more vulnerable state to the possible rise of Ebola within its own borders than it would be if the country avoided active participation in the issue and simply restricted travel to and from the affected areas. On the other hand, such involvement allows for our control over the implementation of a solution in accordance with U.S. interests.

It can be argued that Zakaria saw US’s addressment of the Ebola issue as an example of where its dominance lay on the forefront. As countries around the world continue to interact and progress, the disparities between countries that have been modernized versus those that have not are more recognizable in terms of technology, military power, and economic stability. No longer is there one single superpower who governs every aspect of life such as economics, education, and trade routes, while all other countries remain on more equal, subservient footing. Addressing health care issues, especially ones that are spreading across international borders, is just one of the many prominent governmental topics that affects the perception of a country’s success in today’s world. In the case of the Ebola epidemic, President Obama says, “From DOD to public health to our development assistance, our science teams—everybody is putting in time and effort to make sure that we are addressing this as aggressively as possible” (“Remarks”). As the country leading the charge against this deadly disease, the United States is in a strong position to respond effectively and efficiently to the Ebola epidemic. This acts as a testament to the United States’ advanced medical knowledge and equipment that is readily available in times of immediate need. The United States has the ability to send in the military on humanitarian missions, to establish hospitals in the short-term and to help build the medical infrastructure to combat Ebola. As a nation, all sections of the government are able to coordinate their efforts and send out ships, supplies, and manpower to help. The United States is “enhancing local health care systems’ ability to report threats in real-time, and establish needed capability for expert personnel and equipment” (“Fact Sheet”). Although Zakaria claims that “the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance,” the United States’ humanitarian response can be interpreted as another opportunity for America to assert its dominance (Zakaria 613). Is the United States acting to help those in West Africa or acting to protect its own citizens and national interest? Clearly, in order for a country to survive, it must take actions that will protect the health and well-being of its citizens. This level of protection is, in fact, the responsibility of a government to its own citizens. Obama admits, “We continue to look at any additional steps that can be taken to make sure that the American people are safe, which is our highest priority” (“Remarks”). However, can the United States be resented if it is able to care for its own people while caring for those affected by Ebola?

In the globalized world, it is also necessary to determine what other nations have the responsibility to step in to provide aid. Epidemics such as Ebola are not subject to one particular country. Yet, as the American Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement explained, “An epidemic of fear is hindering our response efforts and thus fueling the spread of the disease” (“Ebola Virus”). It is the responsibility of more modernized countries to help aid in the fight against such diseases instead of choosing to overlook the problem. Zakaria wrote, “When the United States involves itself abroad, it always believes that it is genuinely trying to help other countries better themselves” (Zakaria 614). However, the response of such countries to American help is not always genuine and grateful. As the world becomes more globalized, it also becomes more nationalistic as growing countries begin to take pride in their increased importance on the world stage. Yet, this form of interaction among differing nation-states is not conducive to a more peaceful world in which various powers are willing to help one another. Often times, third-world countries become the scapegoats for the spread of disease and epidemics that are brought into our world. Yet, it seems a gross expectation to suppose that these countries will progress without external aid. Fear of such a world health problem should “inspire solidarity with those taking the fight against this disease into the field where the opportunity for impact is the greatest” (“Ebola Virus”). Although the United States may be the most capable to take a strong stand in combating Ebola, this action should not be limited to America.

In spite of the display of dominance within the context of the Ebola crisis, the limitations of the U.S. in the globalized world are as apparent. As a country ripe with educational opportunities and knowledge of medicine, we acknowledge the existence of unsanitary living conditions around the world. Yet, the U.S. cannot simply send in troops to these affected countries and quarantine people by force. Similarly, the U.S. cannot unilaterally stop people from traveling in and out of the country to contain the disease. As more countries become globalized, there is an increase in interaction between people of various regions, a good portion of which is due to the interest of medical personnel seeking to pursue medical research and to give aid to infected areas. As a result of constant travel, it is easy for an epidemic, such as Ebola, to spread beyond the immediate borders of infected countries and, as a result, permeate the lives and health of individuals in nations throughout the world. There must be continual explicit and formal mechanisms of communication present between powerful countries in order to create a solution. The United States needs to coordinate with other countries to contain travel and pay expenses as well as to help respond with sustained resources. Cooperation will be the solution to global problems. The United States is willing to help, but needs to be sure that the people of West Africa and other nations interpret the aid being provided in a positive way. Obama states, “Countries that think that they can sit on the sidelines and just let the United States do it all, that will result in a less effective response, a less speedy response, and that means that people die, and it also means that the potential spread of the disease beyond these areas in West Africa becomes more imminent” (“Remarks”).

The response of the United States to the threat of Ebola also has caused major economic ramifications for our  country. As cited from APO, “The $4.64 billion for the Administration’s immediate response is designed to fortify domestic public health systems, contain and mitigate the epidemic in West Africa… and reduce risks to Americans…that threaten our national security” (“Fact Sheet”). Because the decimation of this disease’s existence is our first priority, the assurance that the disease stays contained in West Africa may be worth the overwhelming. However, because the region of West Africa and Liberia, in particular, is not fortified with the medical research facilities, hospitals, and health care system necessary to put an end to the disease, we must send medical personnel and supplies, adding another financial burden on the United States. Echoing this idea, Obama said, “This is a faraway place, with… areas that don’t have even one hospital. We’re having to stand up, essentially, a public health infrastructure in many of these areas that haven’t had it before, and that requires an enormous amount of effort” (“Remarks”). Therefore, not only do the efforts of the United States essentially have to create a more improved form of health care for West Africa, but America must also help restructure the local economy.

Kwame Appiah, in his work “Moral Disagreement,” discusses how different cultural values prevent easy translations into what may be considered moral or proper behavior between peoples. Appiah focuses more on the moral response of individuals when different cultures collide on prominent issues like health care crises. He examines our response to the cultural differences that infiltrate our views of the world. One way to achieve the goal of world equality from an economic standpoint is by stepping up as a country to do the right thing by providing an immediate and substantial response to the Ebola epidemic. He poses an argument that suggests openness among people of varying ethnicities and cultures is paramount. People are brought up in different manners and are accustomed to different ways of life; therefore, it is not always easy to accept the ideas and beliefs of those who do not share the same traditional values. Appiah explains, “This is the kind of disagreement where the struggle is not to agree but just to understand” (658). Appiah is insisting on the necessity of communication. We have to struggle in order to obtain a medium and understanding. The need for communication is evident in the case of the spread of Ebola. One source reported, “In Africa, death ritual practices surrounding the care of the body of those who die from Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a major factor in contributing to the spread of the Ebola virus among the mourners” (Lashley). Another explained, “If people are used to hugging, touching and kissing the deceased, they need to refrain, as that is when a body has a high viral load” (McGill). Although it seems that the people of West Africa would realize the dangers associated with handling the bodies of their deceased, it may be more of a case of an unwllingness to refrain from such an action due to their religious beliefs rather than an inabiltiy to understand. The United States does not want to give the perception of arrogant insensitivity and imperial dominance by ignoring or, worse, condemning local traditions. Rather, America must work to understand these cultural behaviors and gain trust to devise a solution that can accomplish the goal of protecting the people while not offending them or forcing them to sacrifice bits of their culture. If miscommunication endures, then both societies suffer—Ebola continues to thrive in West Africa and America continues to run the risk of having the epidemic spread to its shores.

It is our awareness of the lack of medical resources in West Africa coupled with a moral sense that prompts us to cross borders into third-world countries in order to supply direct aid and knowledge. Yet, as more people travel or are sent into such places, the danger of exposure of such deadly diseases as Ebola increases for US citizens.The U.S. government’s actions to help another country can also be interpreted differently within the nation. United States’ doctors and nurses can understand the urge to help, but may feel that they are being put at risk unnecessarily. If proper measures of protection are not taken, they can contract the disease and transmit it between countries. A good example of this is Thomas Duncan, who had been exposed to Ebola in a hospital setting in Liberia, but, unaware, had then visited relatives in the United States. After treating Duncan, two American doctors contracted the disease. Immediately, the government began “eliciting initial threats of prosecution from Liberia and the USA for his not having declared contact with Ebola victims before boarding his US-bound flight” (Bateman). The abiltity to cross borders is both a liberty and a threat. Similarly, individuals in the U.S. have contracted Ebola due to their participation in programs such as Doctors without Borders. The good intentions and danger of involvement are equally evident.

As our world continues to globalize, it is necessary for the United States to acknowledge its own position in relation to that of other countries. The U.S. must take an active role in dealing with international issues in order to maintain its spot as the leading superpower, but also understand its limitations and be willing to form coalitions with other nation-states when faced with a world health issue like the Ebola epidemic. A direct result of a more globalized world, technology plays a major role in relaying information between countries in a quick and accurate way. With more advanced cameras and forms of communication, people do not need to travel over borders in order to visualize some of the catastrophes occuring around the world. The rise of Ebola can be addressed rapidly—if not solved—as citizens become aware of such a dangerous disease immediately. However, what advancement will remove jealousy and suspicion, the inherent by-products of interactions between super powers and inferior nations, modernized nations and third world countries?

Works Cited

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. “Moral Disagreement.” From Inquiry to Academic Writing. Ed. Leasa Burton and Stephen A. Scipione. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. 656-666. Print.

Bateman, Chris. “Ebola Global Response: ‘Not in My Back Yard’.” South African Medical Journal 104.11 (2014): 722+. Academic OneFile. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

“Ebola Virus Disease – International Red Cross and Crescent Movement Statement / the World Needs Humanitarian Workers in West Africa. Stigmatizing them Or Restricting their Movement Will Hinder the Global Response.” African Press Organization. Database of Press Releases Related to Africa: n/a. Oct 31, 2014. ProQuest. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.

“FACT SHEET: Emergency Funding Request to Enhance the U.S. Government’s Response to Ebola at Home and Abroad.” African Press Organization. Database of Press Releases Related to Africa: n/a. Nov 6, 2014. ProQuest. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

Lashley, Felissa R. “Emerging Infectious Diseases: Vulnerabilities, Contributing Factors and Approaches.” Expert Review of Anti-infective Therapy 2.2 (2004): 299+. Academic OneFile. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

McGill, Natalie. “Health Workers Put Themselves at Risk for Ebola while Saving Lives.” The Nation’s Health 10; 2014/11 2014: 1+. Academic OneFile. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

“Remarks by the President After Meeting on Ebola.” African Press Organization. Database of Press Releases Related to Africa: n/a. Oct 7, 2014. ProQuest. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.

Zakaria, Fareed. “The Rise of the Rest.” From Inquiry to Academic Writing. Ed. Leasa Burton and Stephen A. Scipione. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. 611-623. Print.