Ebola is the 'biggest health problem facing our world in a generation.'No one can argue that the present Ebola outbreak is horrific and clearly having a terrible impact in some parts of Africa. However, two things struck me about this statement. Firstly, the Ebola outbreak has been around for some time, yet, it is only now that western governments, including our own and the USA, seem to be responding with anything approaching adequate resources. Could this be because we have one or two cases of the disease on our own shores and so now the illness is being taken seriously?
Secondly, and to my mind more importantly, is the Ebola outbreak really 'the biggest health problem facing our world in a generation'? I well remember the gradual emergence of news in the 1980s of a disease that was devastating parts of Africa and various communities in western countries. I remember the chilling government advert, accompanied by images of tombstones and John Hurt's voice, shown across the television channels. I remember meeting people my own age with AIDS who were at that time living under a death sentence. A couple of years ago in Kenya I was struck by how many public signs and warnings there were about the continued threat of HIV/AIDS. Is Ebola really a greater threat to the world than HIV/AIDS? Does this sort of hyperbole help or hinder in situations like the one we face at the moment with Ebola?
Then my attention was drawn to this graph by Paula Gooder which seems to suggest I was right in questioning the statement.
The NGO Water.org, co-founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, points out that 3.4 million people a year die as a result of a water related disease. This dwarfs the impact of Ebola and we have the means to address this problem, but of course it doesn't really impact on most of us living in the west.
I'm pleased that David Cameron and Barack Obama are finally addressing the Ebola outbreak and its impact on various countries in Africa. I support the allocation of resources to deal with the crisis and want to see other countries respond in the same way. But when the Ebola crisis is over I also hope that our governments are prepared to invest the same commitment of time, energy and resources to the other much 'bigger' health problems facing the world in our generation, even if they don't pose the same threat directly to us as they do to our brothers and sisters in other parts of our world.