The headlines this weekend are again about Ebola, despite the fact that the handful of Americans who have gotten it are those who were caregivers in direct contact with Ebola patients. The concerns are understandable, but it’s also clear the issue has been hyped–there are literally dozens of public health issues that will impact more Americans.
I have been surprised that the attention on Ebola has caused a debate about quarantines and closed borders. If one were to build a policy response about Ebola, it seems it should be more inclusive rather than nativist or reactionary. After all, Ebola is a powerful reminder that the world is interconnected, and another reason we should care about a problem in Africa. A policy response should include: boosting public health infrastructure, including epidemiology resources, approving a surgeon general (given the need for a trusted messenger), more steps to universal health care (health system works better if everyone is included), foreign aid to Africa and the real crisis there, immigration reform (bring folks out of shadows so they feel comfortable to report what’s going on in their community), drug development reform (to better incentivize cures at NIH and drug companies, even for “rare”–and thus less profitable–diseases), investments and better training for frontline health care workforce, a national paid sick days policy (so those sick don’t feel compelled to come to work–to expose their co-workers to the flu or worse), and recognition and prioritization of funding for other health issues that kill far more people–or even a bigger push for folks to get their flu shots, etc.
If we are going to focus on Ebola in our policies, let’s at least do it in a way that strengthens our health system for everyone.