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You weren’t there: the front-lines of Ebola

by Laura Marchand October 7, 2014
You weren’t there: the front-lines of Ebola

Why no one has the right to judge the Texas Ebola victim

The United States is facing its first case of Ebola diagnosed on home-turf, and unsurprisingly, people aren’t taking it so well – least of all, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

In an exclusive interview with the CBC, Sirleaf expressed her disappointment in her countryman for fleeing to the U.S. and spreading the virus to North America.

“With the U.S. doing so much to help us fight Ebola, and again one of our compatriots didn’t take due care, and so, he’s gone there and … put some Americans in a state of fear, and put them at some risk, and so I feel very saddened by that and very angry with him, to tell you the truth,” said Sirleaf, who added that she would likely press charges when the infected man — since identified as Thomas E. Duncan — was healthy enough to return to Liberia. (Which is, of course, optimistic thinking.)

Not that she doesn’t have a perfectly good reason: Duncan knew very well that he was susceptible to the virus, having helped carry a dying, Ebola-infected woman to a treatment centre (and back when she was refused). On top of this, on the airport forms, he denied having any contact with the disease at all. Knowing that, he boarded a plane — an act Sirleaf claims is inexcusable.

Firstly, let me say, what Duncan did was incredibly selfish and cowardly. Not only did he lie at the airport, but in doing so, he risked infecting everyone he came into contact with — including young children. What follows is no excuse for his actions, and it is completely and utterly within the jurisdiction of the Liberian authorities to penalize him to the full extent of the law.

But really — can we blame him?

I cannot imagine what Duncan must have been thinking or feeling after getting that woman to the centre, but I think we can at least commend the (perhaps stupid and misplaced) bravery it took to bring her there. He helped a 7-month pregnant woman in what I can only assume was an attempt to save her and her child’s life by bringing her to the proper authorities, where she could be quarantined and treated.

Unfortunately, they were at capacity and she had to be turned away. Even then, he did not abandon her: he helped her family get her back home, where she later died. Can you blame him – after seeing all that, knowing that he was possibly infected — for wanting to run to somewhere he could be treated? He had just seen first-hand that if he was infected, he would be turned away.

If you were in his shoes, would you have done any differently?

I know it doesn’t make it right, or acceptable, or even excusable.

But it does make him human.

And anyone saying they would do differently should do some serious introspection from their safe and secure high horse before they start throwing stones.

Note: Since the time of writing, the subject of the article, Thomas E. Duncan, passed away. He succumbed to Ebola at 7:51 a.m. on Oct. 8 at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

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