Oct 13, 2014
About two weeks before he died, Thomas Eric Duncan went to a hospital in Dallas. He had high fever, severe abdominal pain, dizziness, a headache, a lack of urine – all signs of Ebola. Tests ruled out several other illnesses that could cause such symptoms. Duncan also told a nurse he had arrived from Liberia a few days before. And yet, ER doctors told Duncan to take antibiotics and Tylenol, and sent him back home!
Could Thomas Duncan’s life be saved? Perhaps, given that at least three other patients in the U.S., who were treated for Ebola early on, have recovered. In any event, one thing is clear: whoever made the decision to send Duncan home on Sept. 25 was being extremely irresponsible, given the risks involved – not only for Duncan but the whole population.
And yet, this was the kind of decision that hospitals in the U.S. make routinely, hundreds of times, every single day. They turn away patients who don’t have insurance.
Hospital managers put pressure on doctors to make treatments more profitable – in total disregard of the well-being of patients. And many patients without insurance are denied treatment, period.
Government officials not only look the other way, but themselves show the same kind of contempt against working-class people. For example, look at what public health authorities did after Duncan was hospitalized. Instead of providing real medical attention for the four people who had stayed with Duncan, they ordered them imprisoned in a house – much like the way sick people, and their relatives, were turned into pariahs back in the Middle Ages.
And politicians joined the effort to divert the public’s attention. Republicans demanded that the U.S. shut its doors to foreigners – from certain countries, of course, in this case in Africa. Along the same lines, President Obama wagged his finger. “We have not seen other countries step up as aggressively as they need to,” he said. Never mind that the Dallas case has revealed the complete failure of the U.S. health care system to protect Duncan, and the population, from the risk of Ebola.
The U.S. has the most state-of-the art medical technology in the world. If Thomas Duncan – and his relatives who are now under house arrest – were billionaires, they would certainly have been treated differently. It’s quite likely they would even have been put up in some luxurious hospital suite, as hospitals tend to advertise for privileged patients these days.
Today, more than ever in history, humanity has the means to prevent, treat and cure illness. And we are in a better position than ever today to contain epidemics. If we are not doing all this, it’s because the capitalist system we live under puts profit above everything else, including human life.