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Second Texas nurse confirmed sick with Ebola

Oppressed nationality women workers on front lines of U.S. Ebola battle

By Masao Suzuki |
October 17, 2014
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San José, CA - on Oct. 14, a second nurse, Amber Vinson, was confirmed sick with the Ebola virus after helping to treat Ebola victim Thomas Duncan, who was originally turned away from a hospital after developing a high fever. Three days earlier, another nurse who also helped care for Duncan, Nina Pham, came down with Ebola and was hospitalized.

It is no coincidence that Vinson, who is African American, and Pham, who is Asian American, are both oppressed nationality women. More and more, the health workers who actually care for people, such as registered nurses, vocational nurses and family doctors are oppressed nationality (African, Asian, and Latino Americans) and women, who are often immigrants.

The fact that both of the cases of Ebola transmission in the U.S. were health care workers shows that the U.S. health care and public health system are woefully unprepared to fight the epidemic. The National Nurses United, based on reports from nurses at the Texas hospital that treated Duncan, listed five major shortcomings: that Duncan was not immediately isolated but instead made to wait with other patients, that nurses were given protective gear that left their necks exposed and told to “cover up their necks with tape,” that contaminated linen and waste was allowed to pile up, that nurses were not trained, and that they were not supported, but instead being blamed for contracting the disease.

The Obama administration’s initial public response featured a representative of the Department of Homeland Security as if being an ‘anti-terrorism’ expert makes one knowledgeable about contagious disease.

The Center for Disease Control’s and National Institute of Health saw their combined budgets cut by about $1 billion over the last four years because of the federal austerity drive known as sequestration. These cuts include money that was going to fund development of drugs to fight Ebola. At a local level, 36% of Texas public health offices had to lay off staff due to budget cuts since the 2008 economic crisis.

For months, the corporate controlled media has been portraying the Ebola epidemic as an African problem, and claiming that the U.S. health system is number one in the world and thus the U.S. is not at risk. But Ebola is not just a medical problem; it is a public health problem. The combination of cutbacks in public health budgets, the fragmented nature of the public health system, the great inequality in access to health care with millions of people without health insurance despite the expansion of coverage under the Affordable Care Act and the drive for profit that leads drug makers to concentrate treatment of chronic conditions like high blood pressure where patients generally need drugs for years, and neglect infectious diseases like Ebola, puts working people in the U.S. at risk.

What the U.S. needs to do, first and foremost, is dramatically step up medical aid and medical staff to West Africa, to fight the Ebola epidemic at its center and at the same time learn how to better fight the disease in the U.S. Second, the U.S. needs to step up its overall public health spending and training and establish universal government medical care that can cover everyone in the U.S. Third, we need to reject the racist and xenophobic calls to ban travel from West Africa or putting people from Africa under suspicion. Last but not least, we need to bring our Ebola practices up to levels established by the World Health Organization, which has been on the ground in Africa and increase training not only at hospitals but also at local clinics where more and more people go for medical care, and do everything possible to support the nurses who are on the front lines of the fight.

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