Mon | May 29, 2017

Ebola giving world a black eye

Published:Sunday | October 26, 2014 | 10:00 AM
Ebola survivors Hawanatu Turay (left) and an unidentified woman display certificates from a treatment centre in Hastings, Sierra Leone, last Friday declaring they are now virus free.-AP

Orville Taylor

Sorry for disappointing my readers by not commenting on the J$4 million spent to repatriate controversial Trinidadian cleric Abu Bakr, or the more than 50 shots fired in the Canadian Parliament on Wednesday last and the cold-blooded killing of a soldier by a 'revert' to Islam.

My one comment from both incidents is that as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was in range of the gunman, remarked, nowhere is "... immune to the types of terrorist attacks that we have seen elsewhere around the world". It is a sobering thought, and the United States (US) and its close allies must have the humbling realisation that not only are their borders porous, but the War on Terror has to be fought at the ideological level.

The West must actively compete for the minds of the young men in Islam who have a warped view of righteousness and an even weirder sense of what the afterlife is. Now, it is losing the war, because by not truly understanding the world view of the Middle Easterners, it is now finding a home-grown army of disaffected youth who are feeding on what they think is wrong with Western societies and foreign policy.

Terrorist activity

Terrorist activity against the US and its allies are of grave concern to us because we are also in the cross hairs. When Uncle Sam sneezes, we don't simply catch cold; we get pneumonia, because he has the vaccine and a plethora of drugs to treat it. We perhaps forget that of the almost 3,000 victims of 9/11, some 16 were Jamaicans and that we are located just over 2,700 kilometres from Texas, where the Ebola virus landed. There is precious little that we can do in combating terrorism with our meagre resources. However, we can ramp up our efforts in facing another clear and present threat: Ebola.

I want to thank Sagicor for being a good corporate citizen and giving the Government J$4 million in equipment in what National Security Minister Peter Bunting calls "a clear indication of a private-sector entity recognising its crucial role in support of public safety and security". The apparatus will essentially detect persons with elevated body temperature who are entering via our airports and seaports. Therefore, travellers showing the early signs of Ebola would be potentially identifiable. Unless it is with the fabled people of Troy, one does not look a gift horse in the mouth, but one should not be lulled into a state of complacency either.

The first bit of information that was published suggested that the period of incubation was some 21 days. Therefore, it was conceivable that one could have been infected and shown the symptoms a good three weeks after arriving in the country. Now, the revised information reveals an even longer period of up to 40 days, making a mockery of any one-shot temperature tests.

early onset of ebola

Moreover, someone carrying an early onset of fever could possibly simply mask the illness with a strong and continuous dose of antipyretic, like good old Cafenol and Phensic. Even more interesting is the likelihood that persons who are simply nervous or anxious could trigger a false alarm, creating panic.

Nevertheless, it might have the additional benefit helping to pick out the occasional drug trafficker, smuggler, or even terrorist whose anxiety pushes up his or her temperature.

Still, Ebola is no joking matter. No one alive has ever lived in a world where there was such an organism capable of decimating large chunks of populations and derailing the economies of many countries.

Despite the disease being discovered almost 40 years ago, no concerted effort was made to find a cure until, suddenly, three Americans were infected.

Nonetheless, for all the screening, nothing can cancel Ebola's Jamaican visa. Emphasis must be on readiness. For the respect and camaraderie I have towards my friend Fenton Ferguson, I believe that the chikungunya ball was dropped. Given the virulence of this disease, spread by all types of body fluids, Fergie cannot afford to drop two balls in consecutive games.

It is an extremely contagious infection, with no established cure. Symptoms, after its incubation period, include vomiting, minor bleeding, fever, joint pains, and small sores all over the body.

It progresses rapidly, and sores and bleeding can escalate within days and constant haemorrhaging can lead to an awful, messy and painful death.

Although the disease has a high mortality rate, like all viruses, some persons naturally recover. This is around 20 per cent. Thus, the majority of the infected die. Interestingly, being American, white or Western European seems to give a 'genetic' advantage, because only black Africans have died.

Nonetheless, we are sorta Americans.

health-care protocol

An impressive communiqué has been issued by the University of the West Indies and its hospital. It is an elaborate protocol outlining the steps to be taken by all health-care workers in dealing with these patients.

Still, I am disturbed that the state-of-the-art knowledge is that it cannot be transmitted by air. Sorry, evidence is now pointing in that direction, especially when the patient is in coughing range. So, let us assume that one does not have to 'hug up', touch or get intimate.

Yet, given the death of the one black person that the US has treated, its record of saving black lives is 100 per cent failure. In a small town in Sierra Leone, an unheralded doctor has treated his Ebola patients with HIV antivirals.

His survival rate is 85 per cent. It is not well publicised or studied, but at least one Jamaican doctor has been using Acyclovir, an antiviral for chickenpox, shingles and other herpes viruses, to treat chikungunya.

From the little biology I know, most viruses have around 80 per cent similarity. Thus, the success of these two doctors is not surprising.

Now that Ebola is no longer on America's doorsteps, but deep in its basement, one anticipates that the previously unavailable experimental drugs will be widespread.

Still, this monster presents a wonderful opportunity for the Government and the university to invest in research into its eradication. Dr Henry Lowe and Professor Errol Morrison are known for their use of local inputs in developing cures. Indeed, as we speak, there are positive signs that at least one Jamaican herbal derivative is viricidal against HIV.

Let's hope that this is the silver lining.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.