More recently in our globalised world, the word contagion has increasingly come to be used in the contexts of terrorism or financial crises – or for that matter anything that spreads fast and with little control, such as even social media. But it is only in the past couple of months that the real sense that the word had been used all along in history is back in circulation – the uncontrolled and alarming spread of disease.
And that dreaded disease, as we only too well today, is Ebola. No contagious or communicable disease since the spread of the plague in the early part of the previous century has spread so much dread and alarm as Ebola, with the possible exception of HIV and AIDS. Diseases like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), more popularly known as swine flu, did cause a scare in the early years of this century but not on a scale that Ebola is causing around the world at present. Though the virus was first identified as early as in 1976, it largely remained contained in a small pocket of Africa.
After raging for a few years, the disease that it caused seemed to die down or at least went unreported for more than three decades. And then late last year and early this year, it reared its ugly head again with reports of deaths in West African nations. The disease that spreads through contact with bodily fluids of affected people largely seemed to be contained within the countries of western Africa. All this while, the world media, the global agencies that work the levers of power and the whole of the western world scarcely took notice of the unfolding disaster. It was only when the first case reached the western world that ham fisted efforts began to be made to deal with the contagion, in a manner that is already beginning to like too little, too late.
A United States citizen who returned from Liberia, and who had contact with an Ebola patient while there, was the first western citizen to succumb to the virus in September. His death was probably preventable, but it has been found that the hospital that treated him was hardly prepared for dealing with the Ebola crisis, though it was widely assumed that it was ready to deal with the contingency. A couple of nurses who treated him and others who might have been in contact with the man have been either quarantined for observation or have been found to be affected. A case in Spain just weeks later and an alarm in Australia were enough to send the world into panic mode.
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• We Say is compiled and edited with the oversight of Samisoni Pareti.