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New England editorial roundup

Associated Press Updated: October 18, 2014 at 9:15 am

The Eagle-Tribune (Mass.), Oct. 16, 2014

A second worker at the Dallas hospital that treated the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States has come down with the deadly disease.

And while she should have known better, the worker, identified as Amber Joy Vinson, went to Cleveland and returned on a flight to Dallas despite having a low-grade fever. She checked into the hospital with Ebola symptoms the next day.

Now, the Centers for Disease Control is trying to contact all 132 passengers on the Frontier Airlines flight. The aircraft made five additional flights after the Cleveland-Dallas trip. Patients infected with Ebola become contagious after they begin exhibiting symptoms. The virus is spread through contact with bodily fluids and can remain alive on surfaces outside the human body for several hours.

From such compounding of small errors, mistakes and lapses in judgment, epidemics are born.

An NBC news cameraman contracted Ebola while on assignment in Liberia. He is currently under treatment in Nebraska, one of just four hospitals in the U.S. with a complete biocontainment unit. Such a facility makes it unlikely this patient, Ashoka Mukpo, will pass his infection on to anyone else. But what of the time before Mukpo was placed in biocontainment?

NBC News Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman worked with Mukpo briefly in Liberia. She placed herself in voluntary quarantine at her home in New Jersey. Those who come into contact with infectious Ebola patients should isolate themselves for 21 days to see if symptoms develop. But recently, Dr. Snyderman broke that self-imposed quarantine to make a pick-up run to a local fast-food outlet.

If a medical doctor will not follow Ebola protocols, how can there be any expectation ordinary citizens will? Indeed, British newspapers report that panic ensued at two hospitals in England as patients walked into emergency rooms reporting Ebola-like symptoms. Staff at one hospital refused to allow the patient on their ward and a doctor declined to go near him. The man was allowed the use of a communal bathroom and kitchen and was permitted to have visitors. Tests later showed he did not have Ebola.

At the Dallas hospital where Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan died last week, staff had no training in Ebola containment other than a voluntary seminar. They picked up their precautionary procedures as they went along, a CDC spokesman said.

"They kept adding more protective equipment as the patient (Duncan) deteriorated. They had masks first, then face shields, then the positive-pressure respirator. They added a second pair of gloves," Pierre Rollin, a CDC epidemiologist, told The Washington Post.

The nation's largest nurses' union, National Nurses United, which does not represent the nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian, said Duncan, while vomiting and experiencing diarrhea, was left in open areas of the emergency room for hours. Later, materials infected by Duncan piled up "to the ceiling" at the hospital, The Associated Press reported.

President Obama and CDC officials say all the right things in an attempt to calm the American public. But the news that leaks out about the actual performance of the medical community during the earliest stages of this crisis does not inspire confidence.

The World Health Organization says we have 60 days from Oct. 1 to get the West African outbreak under control. So far, there have been 9,000 cases of Ebola in West Africa reported with 4,447 deaths. If we fail to control the outbreak within two months, we can expect 10,000 new cases per week, WHO reports.

That is a staggering figure. Given the performance of the U.S. health care system challenged by just a handful of Ebola cases, it is not one that inspires hope.

The Boston Globe, Oct. 17, 2014

Americans are a remarkably generous people when it comes to natural disasters. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, private citizens gave an estimated $1.4 billion, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. An estimated $2 billion poured in to help those displaced by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. But when it comes to man-made disasters, the giving drops considerably. The Syrian civil war has generated so few private donations that they aren't even being tracked, even though Syria's refugee population — some 3.6 million people — is roughly double the number displaced in Haiti or after the Asian tsunami. For humanitarian reasons and for the long-term security of a volatile region, American donors must not overlook the plight of displaced Syrians.

"We raised more in three days for the typhoon in the Philippines than we have raised in three years for the civil war in Syria," said Jeremy Barnicle, spokesman for Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organization that serves more than a million Syrian refugees. Part of the seeming lack of empathy stems from the fact that victims of natural disasters are innocent by definition, while victims of a civil war may have played some role in their fate. The fact that the war in Syria seems so short on "good guys" exacerbates the issue, as does the fact that there's no end in sight.

Nonetheless, more must be done to aid Syrian refugees, the vast majority of whom played no part in their country's unraveling. Wars can be even more devastating for future generations than earthquakes and floods are. The conflict in Syria almost certainly will be, if youth are left to languish in refugee camps. Half a century ago, the Palestinian refugee crisis gave birth to militant movements that played a destabilizing role in Jordan, where they attempted to assassinate the king, and Lebanon, where they helped spark a civil war. Today, the 400,000 adolescents who have been displaced from Syria and currently receive little assistance could play the same destabilizing role in the region.

It is worth noting that the mere presence of the refugees taxes the already fragile communities that host them. In a few short years, the population of Lebanon jumped from 4 million people to more than 5 million, with the arrival of more than a million refugees. Jordan, a country of about 8 million people, hosts 600,000 Syrian refugees. The Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, temporary home to some 80,000, is now Jordan's fourth largest city. Such an influx would be taxing for any country, but it's especially hard for those that were already struggling to deliver services to their own citizens. Disputes over water, jobs, and housing erupt every day.

Humanitarian organizations like Oxfam and Mercy Corps are playing a crucial role in ensuring that tension don't boil over into new conflicts. Mercy Corps, one of the few US aid organizations with a history of working in Syria, provides food and other support to Syrian kids in Lebanon. In Jordan, the group has been upgrading local municipal water infrastructure. Much of that good work has been funded by U.S. taxpayers, through a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The U.S. government has given nearly $3 billion to help Syrian refugees and host communities since 2012. That's a generous amount. But private donations, which provide groups like Oxfam and Mercy Corps with the flexibility to do more nimble and responsive programming, lag far behind — and are sorely needed.

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