No Ebola in Ghana; Poverty is the Real Killer

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Over the weekend, several rumors emerged saying that Ebola had entered Ghana.  Fortunately, all of those were false alarms.

The false reports included a Burkinabe man who died with Ebola-like symptoms in the Upper East Region; rumors that three people who were isolated in the Eastern Region.  Again, all of these people were tested and none died of Ebola.

Since Ghana’s journalists tend to have little to cover other than political infighting, they tend to speculate more than they should.  The government has held meetings on how to deal with a potential Ebola outbreak.

By Sunday night, I was ready to go to ShopRite, buy a couple months supply of food and water, and lock myself in the house.  Fortunately, this morning news reported that everything is fine.  Lately, I’m glad there is a large country – aka Cote D’Ivoire — that can act as a buffer between Ghana and the affected countries (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone).

I’m encouraged that the Nigerians have clamped down on the spread of the disease.  Considering how dense Lagos is, I am impressed by the organization and effort the Nigerians have installed to combat the spread.

Keeping Things in Perspective

"Young Guineans study under the dim parking lot lights at G'bessi Airport in Conakry, Guinea Wednesday, June 6, 2007. Only about a fifth of Guinea's 10 million people have access to electricity and even those that do, experience frequent power cuts. With few families able to afford generators, students long ago discovered that the airport is one of the few places where the lights never go out." - New York Times (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

“Young Guineans study under the dim parking lot lights at G’bessi Airport in Conakry, Guinea Wednesday, June 6, 2007. Only about a fifth of Guinea’s 10 million people have access to electricity and even those that do, experience frequent power cuts. With few families able to afford generators, students long ago discovered that the airport is one of the few places where the lights never go out.” – New York Times (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

At last count, more than 1,000 people have died of the disease over the last eight months.  I think it’s a horrible way to go.  And yet, I also think the outbreak takes attention away from how these people live day to day.

Monrovia, Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia

Poverty is the real killer.  All of the affected areas are very poor.  The per capita GDP (per year!) of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia are $809, $527, and $454, respectively. That’s less than $2 per day in all of these countries.  In comparison, Ghana and Nigeria are $1,850 and $3,010, respectively. (The US, Japan, and the UK have per capita GDP’s of $53,000, $38,500, and $39,000, respectively.)

There’s a tendency to read the reports on CNN and think that conditions are similar to whereever you’re reading from.  I would argue that these affected areas cannot stem the outbreak because they do not have the money to pay for proper isolation centers, well-trained doctors and nurses, nor the ability to monitor the movements of those who have come in contact with the infected.  When the people are this poor, they are more concerned with where they are going to get their next meal than catching the disease.  That’s probably why they were eating bats in the first place.  (Anecdotally, I have heard that rural and poor Ghanaians sometimes eat bush meat, e.g. grasscutter, monkeys, because that’s what they can find.)

According to the World Health Organization, in Sierra Leone, “The underlying factors [of the short life expectancy] are pervasive poverty, high level of illiteracy especially among females, limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, poor feeding and hygienic practices, and overcrowded housing and limited access to quality health services.”

These people live in conditions hardly recognizable to those in the developed world.  Below are some stats that I found:

Life Expectancy (source: World Bank via Google)

The US, Japan, and UK have life expectancies of 79 years, 83 years, and 81 years, respectively.  Ghana’s life expectancy is 61 years and Nigeria’s is 52 years.

Crude Death rate (deaths per year per 1,000 people):

  • Sierra Leone: 17
  • Guinea: 12
  • Liberia: 10

The US, Japan, and UK had crude death rates of 8, 10, and 9, respectively.

Health Expenditure per Capita

  • Sierra Leone: $96
  • Guinea: $32
  • Liberia: $65

Meanwhile, the US, Japan, and UK spend $8,900, $4,750, and $3,650, respectively.

Human Development Index (out of 186 countries)

The USA, Japan, and the UK are ranked 5, 17, and 14, respectively.

Living in Ghana, I’m more assured that the government will be able to quarantine any individuals who may be infected.  The government is aware of the situation and the WHO and the West are finally providing much needed resources and expertise to prevent the outbreak from spreading further.

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