Many say it has already reached the epidemic stage and something must be done. While we ardently cherish our liberty, quarantining may be the only solution. After all, 11 teens are dying from it every day.
In fact, we expose them. We let them text and drive. Shouldn’t we quarantine every teenager until adulthood? For their safety and ours?
Compare that with the risk of a person arriving from West Africa spreading Ebola. I consult for the Sierra Leone government, writing a life-skills manual for low-literacy youth. For a country with a 65 percent illiteracy rate, this is an important step – a strike against teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence and for girls’ empowerment.
I work in an office or on my balcony. Occasionally, I meet with facilitators or youth to test the lessons. We get our temperature checked and wash our hands in a chlorinated solution. We sit “Ebola style” – meaning our chairs and bodies cannot touch. We no longer hug, or exchange handshakes, so integral to the pulse of African life.
Yes, there are over 3,000 cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, but could I catch Ebola? Am I a higher risk to society than teenagers who text while driving?
Ebola is a viral disease that is transmitted only when a person is actively sick, with symptoms that can convey the disease: vomiting, sweating and persistent diarrhea. That person is either in a treatment center, holding center or home, waiting for help or waiting to die. He or she is not walking about, attending meetings, working in a shop or an office.
So, why is Ebola spreading? The average home in Sierra Leone houses 6 to 10 people. In over 55 percent of them, people sleep compacted in one or two rooms. Only 10 percent of households use a toilet facility not shared with other homes. The rest may share a common latrine with 10 or more homes – or urinate and defecate outside. If they are among the 91 percent of people who don’t have tap water in their homes, they collect water from a spigot, stream or well. Twenty-five percent of people travel 30 minutes or more to get drinking water. Washing hands is not as easy as it sounds.
Someone gets sick and has signs or symptoms, which may be Ebola. They call the toll-free number and await help. Meanwhile, the sick one is lying down – where? Is using the toilet – where? The family is protected – how? Say the family member is a baby – your baby. Will you leave that baby alone, wailing and miserable with fever and diarrhea?
This is how Ebola spreads. For me to catch Ebola, I would need to go into that home, unprotected, touch the vomit, feces or sweat of the sick person or corpse and then touch my eyes, nose or mouth.
Think of your daily life. How often do you come into contact with the body fluids of a gravely sick person? My life is not very different from yours.
Sierra Leone needs health care workers to fight and conquer Ebola. Before the outbreak, there were only 120 doctors to serve its 6 million people. Now there are fewer. We desperately need ambulances and staff for the treatment centers.
Health care workers who come here know only too well the signs and symptoms of Ebola. They will be the first to get help and warn others to take precautions. If America makes it too difficult for these brave volunteers to come to Sierra Leone, we are condemning this country and its generous, loving, tenacious people to misery and death. Certainly we are better than that.
And me? The chances of my getting killed by a teenager in Chapel Hill who texts while driving are exponentially higher than those of my bringing Ebola to the U.S. and infecting him or anyone else.
I have not been back to the states in more than a year. I would like to see my 83-year old mother, my children, family and friends. I would like to get annual check-ups at the doctor, dentist and eye doctor – something I cannot do in Sierra Leone. I can afford only three weeks away from work. Please don’t ask me to spend them in quarantine. I am willing to take the risk and expose myself to all the texting-while-driving killers on the streets of America. Take a chance on me.
Lorilei Beer of Chapel Hill is living in Freetown, Sierra Leone.