- - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Ebola virus has arrived on our shores, and already it has infected the politics. Nina Pham, a nurse at a Dallas hospital, contracted the deadly disease despite treating an Ebola patient in protective gear, and having had training in dealing with infectious patients. Many rightly ask: How could this happen?

It’s symptomatic of the broken immigration system that someone from Liberia with recent contact with Ebola victims was allowed entry into the United States on a temporary visa. Permission was granted a full five months after the outbreak in Liberia had been officially confirmed. Common sense would have restricted entry into the United States from countries dealing with an outbreak, allowing exceptions only for essential travel to support humanitarian medical missions, and then with the proper precautions.

Common sense is scarce. Thomas Eric Duncan was an unemployed Liberian whose visit to the United States was the textbook definition of nonessential. Letting him into the country put the lives of Miss Pham, Mr. Duncan’s fiancee and others in jeopardy.

Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, who is a physician, raised the alarm in a July letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mentioning Ebola as one of the potential public health hazards posed by the administration’s southern border policy. “I believe that medical providers should be put on alert,” he wrote, “and that the CDC should provide guidelines to the public about how to protect themselves from potential infection.”

Firestone, not the federal government, has shown the most impressive leadership on this issue. The tire manufacturer has a sprawling 185-square-mile rubber-tree farm in Liberia, and the company put its full resources into building an on-site treatment facility and quarantine center to contain the spread of the disease to protect 8,000 workers and 72,000 others who live nearby. Of 72 who contracted the disease there, 18 have survived. The Firestone plant is now the safest place in West Africa. Firestone’s response model works, and the developed world must replicate the effort throughout Africa. It’s the right and practical thing to do.

Others are more concerned with stoking public fears for publicity. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, never one to pass up a chance to pose for the cameras, blames “racism” for Mr. Duncan’s death. Joy-Ann Reid, an MSNBC contributor, tweeted that the Ebola spread was “caused by a private hospital in a red state.” She quickly retracted the tweet (but not the sentiment).

Airplane cleaning crews at LaGuardia Airport in New York hijacked Ebola fears to go on strike, even though LaGuardia serves only domestic flights and isn’t at any greater risk of the virus than an airport in North Dakota. Hector Figueroa, head of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, nevertheless says the strike “shows that these workers needed to be paid a fair wage for dangerous work.”

Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik blames the lack of an “Ebola czar” on the National Rifle Association, which has blocked the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s gun control-obsessed choice for surgeon general.

Democratic campaign ads from the Agenda Project blame the spread of Ebola on Republicans who “cut” the CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH) budgets. Francis Collins, the Obama appointee to the top NIH post, dutifully chimes in that he would have cured Ebola now if only he had been given a bigger pot of money.

Yet the government agency spends the money it does have — a sum increased under both George W. Bush and Mr. Obama — on frivolous research. NIH studied whether texting warnings to fans at football tailgate parties would encourage them to drink less. NIH studied whether heavy drinking is related to losing money at gambling. If the agency gets the extra money it seeks, it could finally complete the long-awaited study of whether water is wet.

The nation deserves leadership that puts public health over politics. Theatrical drama can wait for another day.

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