Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ebola Part 2: Facts You May Not Know

The Ebola Virus has many in a panic…especially since it has appeared in a US hospital.  People are calling for travel bans, quarantining nations fighting the virus, and other idiotic responses. 

Here are some facts they seem to not know: 

  • The virus is not airborne like the flu or a cold…it is spread through bodily secretions and can be killed with household bleach.
  • The wide-spread contamination comes from areas that have few doctors and little to no resources…in other words, the very poor countries.  
  • The virus can be easily contained if detected and the proper protocols are implemented. 
  • Thomas Duncan, the patient who died in Texas told the hospital he had been to Liberia.  What many of us do not know is that he was a person of color and had no health insurance.  He was sent home with antibiotics where he got sicker and, we now know, did not contaminate his fiancee’s family.  He contracted Ebola aiding an infected pregnant woman while in Liberia, who also died.
  • There is an 80% survival rate if treated and if the person has a strong immune system…if they are not poor and hungry.
  • In the poor countries like Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone doctors are precious.  In the chart on below look at the comparison of doctors per 100,000 people. Liberia, 1; Nigeria, 4; and Sierra Leone, 3; Nicaragua, 37; and the United States, 242, Cuba 672.
    From CIA World Fact Book
  • Cuba currently has 4,000 medical workers in Africa and is planning to send two more brigades to West Africa.  (By the way:  Cuba has one of the best records of how to deal with infectious diseases worldwide, given their economy...or lack of one.  They also have highest rate of doctors per capita in the world!)
  • With around $5 million of support from Venezuela, ALBA (the Bolivian Alliance for the Peoples of our Americas) is sending Cuban doctors to train other Latin American doctors.   If Ebola comes to poor countries this side of the Atlantic, it will be equally deadly.
In Nicaragua, Cubans are training 150 doctors who - in turn - will train other doctors including our own clinic's doctors next week.  Some of the Nicaraguan doctors will also go to help contain the virus and heal the sick in Africa…and remember, we only have 37 doctors per 100,000 people.

This virus is disastrous for the people of West Africa.  The poverty, lack of support, poor sanitation and nutrition, and painfully hard lives are just too add this deadly horrible!  Too much time and words have wasted by those countries with the doctors, the resources, and the means to respond.

Pres. Raúl Castro of Cuba asked the ALBA participants to not make this health crisis a political debate, but Nicaraguan Pres. Daniel Ortega could not hold his tongue.  Political or not, he is right when he asked where were the developed countries...those countries that are “spending millions on war, and forming alliances for war,” but are dragging their feet on a worldwide response to a potentially devastating pandemic?       

The reality is that poor Africans…poor people of color…or just poor people do not matter as much as white, wealthier people.  Paul Farmer (Founder of Partners in Health) sums it all up… “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ebola...Part 1

Ebola is scary.  It is one of the diseases that Hollywood likes to use in its thrillers.  For those suffering from Ebola in the impoverished countries of West Africa, it is frightening and extremely deadly.

9,000 people so far – más o menos – have contracted Ebola.  Only a few in the United States, but the fear of the virus in the States is mind-boggling.  Ebola is a virus that causes hemorrhagic fevers.  Do you know what else is a virus also causes hemorrhagic fevers?


It is estimated that in 2014, 390 million people will contract dengue, “break-bone fever." Virologists have found a new strain to add to the four existing strains of the dengue virus.  

Dengue causes high fevers, chills and flu-like symptoms in all strains, but in the more serious strains it also causes such a severe drop in white blood cell counts that patients can die from secondary infections or from blood losing its function to clot.  Patients bleed internally if not treated in a proper and timely fashion. Children are at higher risk of mortality from dengue than adults.

While malaria has declined by 25% worldwide, and in Africa 35%, dengue is on the rise.  Like malaria, dengue is passed by mosquitoes.  4 billion people in the world live in areas that harbor the dengue virus…and that number is growing with the warming of the planet.

Which is good news for Nicaragua, where dengue is increasing each rainy season becoming more and more of an epidemic.  As the wealthier nations become more susceptible to dengue, then more money will be invested in a vaccine…or in the case of ebloa as The Onion  headline satirizes, “Experts: Ebola Vaccine Only 50 White People Away”…funny, but too true and too, too sad.
*Part 2 coming tomorrow

Thursday, October 16, 2014

When It Rains, It Pours

After the drought in the first part of the rainy season, now too much rain is falling on Nicaragua.  On the Island of Ometepe, a 5-year-old girl was washed away in flooding.  Around 6,000 people have been displaced due to flooding.

Farmers are concerned about their crops and this comes after hardly any crops surviving the drought.  Food prices are high and likely to go higher.  COPROEXNIC, the organic agriculture cooperative, has been working with farmers on Ometepe, one of the hardest hit by the flooding, to see how they and we can help.

People are worried about all the environmental events.  Not enough rain.  Too much rain.  Then add to that:  last spring, we had tremors for weeks and Monday night Nicaragua experienced another tremor and the country is on yellow alert.

Food prices are high.  Mosquitoes carrying dengue and malaria are thriving in all the standing water.  Mold is everywhere.  Clothes are not getting fully dried.  People are cold at nights.  Asthma is more of a problem.  And now the earth is shaking again.  

For people like me, who do not live on the edge, these are all a nuisance and a concern.  For people who are poor and the least little thing can knock them over…well,  all the rain and tremors are knocking people over.

The government is addressing these problems…building houses for flood victims; importing food to lower prices; feeding children in schools; closing schools to prevent disasters away from home with tremors…but there is only so much that a government with limited resources can do.

The poor have leaky roofs and all this rain turns their dirt floors into mud.  Their lean-to homes are easy to wash away in floods.  And the homes of the poor have no foundation and their walls are not sturdy which means a tremor is terrifying if not potentially disastrous.

Stress is high.  We in the States tend to talk about stress as running your kids from one place to another…or high powered jobs…or having little free time, but real stress...the kind that eats at your soul... comes from knowing that one rain too many, one disease, one more hike in food prices, or one more shake can bring your life tumbling down.  This is the reality of the poor and why the human race needs to lift the impoverished up... literally... out of the mud.

* The day after we published this blog, 9 people were killed in Managua when the retaining wall of a gated community collapsed on the poor barrio beside it, bringing the total dead from rains up to 19. Miraculously, two babies were pulled from under mud and concrete alive.