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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Health inequalities ill-treated

    If you’ve ever read “The Hot Zone” or seen that one episode of “House” that deals with Ebola, you know it’s nothing to mess with.

    Whether it’s the bleeding from your eyes or the high likelihood of a quick and painful death, Ebola is a horrifying bastard of nature that should have been eradicated years ago but has — through intense mutation and aided by ideal conditions such as tropical weather and healthcare in developing nations — persisted and continues to kill an absurd amount of people in Africa.

    Despite the consequences, in this country, a policy of negligence and intolerance toward those with the disease has been adopted. While it may not make financial sense to ship patients back to U.S. treatment centers, ignoring a worldwide health issue is irresponsible.

    On a day-to-day basis, the U.S. as a nation seems okay with completely shirking its responsibility toward total equality in healthcare and adopting a stance of everyday racism. It turns out that one of the best medicines out there is having white skin, and it is an endemic problem that occurs worldwide.

    In light of this negligence, it’s no wonder Americans were outraged when two volunteering U.S. missionaries treating Ebola patients in Liberia, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, were brought back to the U.S. for treatment. People were up in arms, saying they were a public health risk — which, while they admittedly were, does not mean they are not people deserving of proper treatment. They were taken immediately to Emory University Hospital, a healthcare center far more equipped to deal with Ebola than pop-up clinics in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

    There is a fine line between outrage and attention, but the worst part of the “outrage” surrounding the volunteers’ transfer is that they wouldn’t have been transferred had they not been white and upper middle class. We’re not really interested in dealing with Ebola in general, but we’re a bit more receptive when the highest echelon of power in America is affected.

    While Brantly and Writebol potentially have insurance, there is a clear double standard surrounding their treatment. None of the thousands of infected African people have been transported to superior healthcare facilities on the basis of their lives being important and worth great expense to save, and there is certainly no up-to-the-minute coverage surrounding each infection that sprouts up overseas. It’s not really the United States’ job to be everywhere, but it is our job to care from a global health standpoint.

    There is a clear disparity between worldwide and American healthcare that needs to be resolved, but, according to Julia Belluz at Vox, it’s a problem that can’t be fixed without an examination of the blatant privilege surrounding it.

    The treatment of Ebola-infected black patients in Africa is also related to disparities of healthcare between white people and people of color in the U.S. Thomas LaVeist, director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions, has been undertaking research to combat racial disparities for years.

    When he initially wrote his dissertation back in 1990, LaVeist’s research concerned how many infant deaths were associated with being black, and, unfortunately, not much has improved since then. One key problem that LaVeist has associated with this health care disparity is everyday racism.

    “These little microaggressions include things like going to a reception … and no one talks to you, trying to go into an elevator and someone doesn’t hold the door from you or walking into the elevator and someone moves further away as if they’re concerned about you snatching their purse,” LaVeist said. “These things are happening at a subconscious level, and they have a physiological and psychological response. That degrades your health, and it has been shown to degrade the strength of the immune system.”

    Research similar to LaVeist’s could be further conducted to understand why this disparity exists. This research could consider insurance coverage, racial proclivities to certain diseases and deviations in access to healthcare. As within a lot of systems in this nation — such as welfare, voting and education — people of color are systematically oppressed and lack the same inherent privilege white people benefit from in healthcare.

    It’s a shame that this problem, while thoroughly identified, persists in many national institutions and remains practically uncontested.

    “What dictates how healthy you’ll be throughout life — and all the promise and opportunity that cascades from that — is something a lot more basic,” Belluz writes. “In America, it’s still the color of your skin.”

    So if you end up contracting Ebola — and you’re a white person — congrats! Your chance of survival is higher than any person of color.

    —Nick Havey is a junior studying Spanish and physiology. Follow him @NiHavey

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