LAWRENCE — President Barack Obama's announcement Tuesday of a major increase in the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa included a commitment of 3,000 troops, plus material to build field hospitals, additional health care workers and other supplies.
According to international news reports, hospitals and clinics in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are overwhelmed. The World Health Organization has called this the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history. The virus has killed more than 2,400 people.
A University of Kansas researcher is available to comment on the recent U.S. response to the outbreak and the public health infrastructure of the different African countries the outbreak has hit.
Kathryn Rhine, an assistant professor of socio-cultural anthropology, studies medical anthropology and global health politics in Nigeria. Rhine is available to comment on the U.S. response and the public health impact of Ebola in countries affected by the outbreak, including Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Rhine said many challenges remain in fighting the Ebola outbreak and other diseases in West African countries. She said top-down approaches led by the U.S. military would inevitably provoke some feelings of ambivalence among West Africans. For instance, suspicions about donor-funded global health interventions circulate in some Nigerian communities. In Nigeria, like many African countries, there is a long history of deception and graft among politicians associated with the misappropriation of public health funding.
"Despite all of these issues, such steps by the U.S. government are critical. The fundamental problem, which has been argued over and over again, is that the medical infrastructures in these focal countries are utterly ill-equipped to treat patients," Rhine said. "There are insufficient numbers of doctors, nurses, equipment and medications, and the centers that exist are overcrowded and often far away from the towns and villages where people reside. There needs to be a rapid scale-up of treatment centers in rural settings, not just major urban centers. If patients believe that hospitals are places where people go to die, it is understandable why they would be afraid to seek this care. If community members have faith in local institutions and can witness that Ebola is treatable — and it is — the fears and stigma will hopefully lessen."