21/10/2014

The Ebola Epidemic and Incompetence

Why do we have governments? Libertarians tell us that the best governments are those which govern least. But in times of crisis, such as a natural disasters or wars, citizens depend on their governments to protect them. That is why we pay taxes. In the recent Ebola outbreak, both in the countries of origin in Africa and the countries where those infected have been treated, there has been clear incompetence by public authorities.


In the United States, supposedly in the forefront of medical research and treatment, President Obama has been forced to appoint an individual specifically to oversee the country’s reaction to a very limited number of cases. The New York Times reported on the President’s anger over the incompetence of his officials: “Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate.”
It would be easy to excuse the official response by saying that the Administration is overwhelmed by the crisis in Ukraine, fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the chaos in Yemen or even the upcoming November elections. But we are talking about the admission of and care for ONE patient in what has long been considered one of the finest hospitals in Dallas, Texas, the eighth-largest care center in the second largest state in the Union. We are not talking about a mass influx in some backwater clinic in rural Mississippi. As a regular patient described the hospital: “It has always been considered the Neiman Marcus (a very upscale department store) of hospitals because a lot of wealthy people came here.”
The man who died, Thomas Duncan, was initially misdiagnosed, admitted two days later, and it was two days after his admission and diagnosis that personnel began wearing biohazard suits. As The Times also reported with some tongue in cheek: “If the hospital has served as a canary in a coal mine for the country’s Ebola response, the results have not inspired confidence”. Inspired confidence? A nurse did not ask Mr. Duncan about his travel history until two hours after he had been admitted to the emergency room, two days after he had first been refused admission. Because of the numerous lapses, several hospital workers also appear infected.
President Obama’s crowning domestic achievement has been the passing of legislation to guarantee that 44 million Americans without health insurance would be covered. Besides the obvious incompetence in the computer glitches when the plan was rolled out to the public in late 2013, we are now witnessing the incompetence of official Washington and local health officials to deal with ONE patient who had contracted a disease that was in all the media. If having health insurance means that this is the kind of treatment that will be offered, what’s the point?
In times of crisis, such as a natural disasters or wars, citizens depend on their governments to protect them. The war against ISIS is another example of incompetence. The United States taxpayers invested over $2 trillion in Iraq. American taxpayers paid to train the Iraqi army instead of spending money on infrastructure, schools, etc. What have they gotten for their investment? It is the Kurdish Peshmerga which is fighting most of the battles. And, not ironically, they are fighting the ISIS army that has weapons taken from the Iraqis when they fled the battle field. One day, I hope, there will be an evaluation of the misapplication of funds from the creation of the Iraqi National Congress through the preparation of the Iraqi army to stand alone without U.S. support. Where are they now that we really need them? It should be their boots on the ground; it is their country they should be fighting to preserve.
At a recent dinner here in Geneva with a former high ranking U.S. government official, I asked his judgment of the current Administration. He kept saying “incompetent.” Mind you, when we went on to discuss other administrations, the same word was repeated. Are we in a general situation of public incompetence? Is the world so complex that no government can adequately react to constantly evolving situations? If the answer to the above questions is yes, then we should all reconsider why we pay taxes.

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