Health care problems manifest in Ebola

An insufficient health care system in the U.S. has made treating the outbreak difficult.

by Ronald Dixon

Since Liberian man Thomas Duncan came to the United States and infected two nurses with Ebola before dying in a north Texas hospital, many Americans now worry that the disease may spread.

As we approach the 2014 midterm elections, here’s something voters should consider before heading to the polls: Republican budget cuts and conservative attitudes toward health care and job security helped to create an environment conducive to Ebola’s spread.

For example, the National Institutes of Health has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. However, according to NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, “[I]f we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this [epidemic] that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

Republicans are to blame for cutting crucial investments in medical research.

They were responsible for the government shutdown that delayed clinical trials for vaccines.

Furthermore, conservative ideologies don’t do enough to stop Ebola’s spread. For example, former Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul believes that hospitals should be able to deny people health care — including emergency services — if they lack insurance.

This is exactly what happened to Duncan. Although he told his nurse that he had recently visited Liberia and was feeling ill, he didn’t have insurance, so he left without treatment.

Also, Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports a “right-to-work” rule, which bans mandated union membership and hinders workers’ rights in the process. Because Texas is a right-to-work state, nurses could have been disciplined or fired for refusing to treat Duncan. Nurses have alleged that the hospital didn’t do enough to protect staff members, and two have contracted Ebola.

The Republican solution to the Ebola epidemic is to enact travel restrictions between Liberia and the United States. Instead of restricting visitation, airports should be screening passengers who recently arrived from the affected regions of West Africa.

This is especially true in Minnesota, where we have the largest pocket of Liberian residents in the U.S. In fact, Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, as well as Franken’s Republican challenger Mike McFadden, recently requested that federal screenings begin in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. For now, the U.S. is requiring travelers from the heart of the Ebola outbreak to fly through one of just five airports in the country.

However, this epidemic cannot be contained by screenings alone. In order to protect Americans against hazardous diseases like Ebola, the government must invest in medical research and guarantee health care for everyone. If voters choose to elect progressive candidates next month, they may be able to make containment a reality.