You’ve Shaken Hands With Ebola: How Many Degrees of Separation

I have my own encounter with Ebola. I am once removed from Ebola in degrees of separation, and this was close enough for me. Not only this current outbreak but the one in the mid 1990’s in Ivory Coast.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa (Guinea, Sierra Leone , Liberia) is another human tragedy, heartbreaking. An outbreak, as of right now,  three times larger than any previous outbreak. As of this writing over 700 dead, and almost 1300 infections. A human tragedy of great proportions.

With some West Africans questioning if Ebola is even real (the same for AIDS). Others claiming traditional cures that lure people away from proper care and rapid medical quarantine is augmenting the risk of spreading this Ebola outbreak.

There seems to be a kind of deep fear and panic settling in about encountering people because those infected were sometimes exposed unaware when a few people in very early Ebola infection stages were contagious, but unaware they had Ebola. A tough reality in a society and culture where greeting, abundantly, and liberally is a deeply genuine part of daily life and community. And now, protesters are marching on Ebola clinics…… in Liberia and Siera Leone, threatening to burn them down. What is up with that?

“People are seeing people die, and what is worse is that your loved one gets ill, and you cannot touch,” he says. “In the war … at least  you knew where to run, you knew probably where to hide. But now you’re running even from people you love.” (Lewis Brown. Liberias Information Minister)

The Western and West African medical staff treating these sick people (The Head Liberian Doctor leading the charge against Ebola was himself exposed and died.) are nothing short of heroes of humanity and love.

I know people who are friends to the sick western Medical Doctors with Samaritans Purse. In degrees of separation, that is not very far removed is it. If I understand this degrees of separation correctly, it would be two degrees of separation from me personally.

However, i’m one degree closer than that.

When we moved to Ivory Coast in 1995, there was an Ebola outbreak from 1995-1996.  Monkeys seemed to be the carriers. Therefore, we were told not to touch pet monkeys, nor handle their carcasses (Bush meat markets are Common in Ivory Coast to this day).

I went to Abidjan to do banking and met a Swiss grad student.  He was part of a team doing research on monkeys in the protected Tai Forest in South Western Ivory Coast. We struck up a conversation during the long waits that are oh so normal in West Africa.

Turns out he had been in Ivory Coast for about six months and this team was not certain they would be completing their project. They were waiting word from the Swiss Embassy and their University, who were making a decision that very afternoon. I inquired why that might be and he informed me that one of their team had contracted Ebola while in the Tai Forest, and is in very critical condition. Wow.

My turn at the counter finally arrived, and I wished the Swiss grad student and his whole team well, giving him my thoughts and prayers for their very sick teammate, and for clarity and peace about what to do. Writing this just now…. that sounds so pathetic… But what else can you say (and do) in the face of Ebola?

So there you have it. I shook hands with a person who’s work environment, and team contracted and was exposed to Ebola.  Just that easy, one can be exposed to Ebola and not even know it.

That is why this Ebola Story humbles and concerns me. It is not simply “Over There”. We are not that far removed from people who are in the struggle.

I was reading today that the two American medical workers infected are being brought back to the USA, and there is a huge outcry to not bring the sick workers back and risk an outbreak in North America as well.

I understand the sentiment and concern on one hand. However, I am alarmed on the other hand. What will we be saying to medical workers putting their lives on the line around the world, working hard to prevent human catastrophes. We would be in effect saying, “You go and help, but if you get sick we will leave you there, and deny you the best care we can give you as a nation. Don’t come home.”  Kind of like leaving a Canadian or American solider to die in a foreign land, refusing to take the wounded in Action home, despite the fact he is doing so for our well being.  To top it all off these countries are asking for help and assistance. How can we encourage people to go and help, if we will refuse to let them return if they get wounded in the battle against Ebola?  These two Americans are hero’s…. not threats… treat them accordingly.

Remember this, and be humble, thankful, and gracious toward those making the sacrifices for the health of us all.

Remember this formula…….    NEWS = PEOPLE

…. real people are affected by all we read in the news. We are not nearly as far removed from these situations as we might think. Geographical distance is deceiving us. Same goes for the recent Air Algérie flight out of Ouagadougou that crashed in Mali . We have friends who knew people on board. It’s a small world now.

Do you know me? Then you are only two degrees of separation from Ebola.

My heart goes out to the people and medical workers involved in the three most affected West African Nations. I’m praying for great mercy and grace on this front.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Sorry about those emails. Not sure where they are generated from because this post has no other comments that you would receive notices for.

    But I do know in your WP settings or dashboard you can unsubscribe yourself to any post or comments you decided to be notified about. I can’t undo that action for you. Best of luck.


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