On Sunday mornings, I wake up early. Still tired from only a few hours of sleep, I put on my shoes and walk out my back door. I step down my porch and out into one of the city’s largest parks. From there, I run.
I run along a path that will take you to Stone Mountain if you go far enough. After about a mile though, I cut left and begin the long slog up Clifton road, along Candler Park golf course and past the Fernbank museum. Eventually I reach North Decatur road and cross into the Emory University campus.
Around mile three, I pass the hospital and CDC headquarters. That means that this week, I’ll pass by two of the city’s newest residents: Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. Both are infected with the Ebola virus and have been brought to Atlanta for treatment.
Brantly and Writebol were working for faith based international nongovernmental organizations in Liberia when they contracted the virus from patients they were helping to treat. Both were committed to heeding the teachings of Christ by using their talents to help treat the sick and needy. They put themselves in harm’s way to alleviate others’ suffering and their work should be commended.
Yet they are among the hundreds of people who have contracted Ebola during the recent outbreak in West Africa. The difference is that while more than 900 Africans have died from the virus on a continent known for its wars, corruption, and poverty, the two Americans were flown to North America to the best facility in the world.
Susan Grant, the head nurse at Emory, recently wrote in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post that Brantly and Writebol “have a right to come home for their care” and that “as human beings, we all hope that if we were in need of superior health care, our country and its top doctors would help us get better.”
The trouble is what happens when your country and its doctors aren’t superior? For the hundreds of affected Africans, what happens when being whisked off to Atlanta isn’t an option?
The answer is very different from the one Brantly and Writebol got.
The answer is that the UN will declare the situation an international emergency in the hopes that it will bring in money from the rest of the world. The answer is that the CDC goes to level 1 and will send more personnel to affected countries, but maybe not for another 30 days. The answer is that the potential cure that was quickly offered to Americans gets bogged down by experts discussing if such a drug should even be used.
The answer is that the gap between first and third world becomes all too evident and injustice rears its ugly head.
It is an injustice because it means that we have accepted a world where nationality determines the quality of care we receive when we are ill. We have built a system that allows for some to die because they live in places without the healthcare that others have come to expect.
Nancy Writebol’s husband David summed up this injustice perfectly. He was quoted saying “We’re losing the idea that human beings are created in the image of God and therefore inherently valuable … It’s not just the ones in rich countries who have that status, that are valuable.”
We have created a world that adds a lot of complications to the idea that each life has value. But we must remember that disease does not know nationality, it knows humanity. It is evidence that in our mortality, we are all the same. Borders that past generations essentially made up should not determine who gets what treatment when.
What we must do is start focusing on how we find treatments for humans, not citizens. We should look for better ways to build up infrastructure in places that seem distant and forgotten. We cannot forget the needs of those still in incredible poverty and shouldn’t treat their lives as statistics on the news.
As I said in my last post, issues in part of the world can have an effect on lives all over the world. Disease can start in one place and become a problem in another. If we want to really ensure our safety, we should be thinking about what’s happening far away from us and not just about what is going on at home.
But it’s not just about disease. In the words of Dr. King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Accepting that some are more valuable than others simply based on where they were born only leads to making further distinctions. As David Writebol said, everyone has value. Instead of thinking of all the poor “Liberians” or “Guineans” or unfortunate “Africans,” we should be thinking of how we can help the affected humans.
As I run past Emory hospital this Sunday, I’ll pray that Brantly and Writebol get better. But as the Atlanta heat swelters as rays of light bear down on me, I’ll also pray for those under the same sun that warms the streets of Monrovia, Freetown, and Conakry. I’ll pray that they get better and we find a way to deal with the outbreak soon. I’ll pray that this crisis might help us reconsider the injustice of our world. Most of all, I’ll pray that we never forget that we are all valuable.