Ebola Epedemic: Fear and Heroism

Kaci Hickox is a 33 years old nurse who donated her time and risked her life to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders. She recently spent a month taking care of the most vulnerable of our neighbors in West Africa. There the Ebola epidemic has killed over 5000 people in one of the most impoverished regions on earth.

The United Nations have said that unless the epidemic is stopped at its source, then the potential for spreading elsewhere is inevitable. The UN has challenged nations in developed countries to use their considerable resources to assist the poor countries in West Africa.

In response developed nations such as the United States and non-government groups like Doctors Without Borders have responded. Kaci Hickox is one of these heroic responders who has stepped away from her work in upstate Maine and risked her life to be of help.

Recently she returned without symptoms and was forced into a quarantine in New Jersey, simply because she had treated patients with Ebola. She took a medical test that tested negative for Ebola. Health care experts say that a person is only contagious when they are showing symptoms of Ebola and only when a person comes in contact with bodily fluids. Kaci Hickox shows no such signs and monitors her temperature and health regularly.

Under pressure from health experts Governor Christy of New Jersey allowed Kaci to return to her home in upstate Maine. Upon coming home to Maine, Governor Paul LePage fanned the flames of fear and ordered Kaci to be quarantined in her own home for 21 days. Kaci has responded by challenging the quarantine on the basis of science and on constitutional grounds.

Yesterday Kaci Hickox stepped out of her home and went on a bicycle ride through the rural streets of her neighborhood. Governor LePage and some in her community have derided her ‘for her reckless behavior’.

Health official have said that such unfounded fear fueled by politicians such as Governors Christy and LePage, has had a chilling effect on the need for volunteers to go to the source and stem this epidemic. Health officials have said that only about half of the badly needed 700 to 1000 foreign health workers have signed up.

Who can blame health professionals for not signing up? Not only are you asked to leave your family and work for on average a month and to put oneself at risk by treating contagious patients…now fear mongers back at home will require you to be quarantined and ostracized for an additional 21 days (even when there is no medical basis).

However in the midst of this culture of fear, we have heroic figures like Kaci Hickox. Her courage speaks to the very best in the human spirit. Her courage comes from a deep place of compassion for our most vulnerable of neighbors in West Africa. And, her courage comes from a deep seated understanding of our constitutional rights as a citizen of the United States to not stand silent as reckless politician like Paul LePage fans the flames of ignorance and fear.

I don’t know if Kaci Hickox is motivated by a faith life. But in her actions I see the spirit of Jesus at work who says in Matthew 25:40 ‘whatever you do unto the most vulnerable of my sisters and brothers you do unto me’. I thank God for heroic figures like Kaci who risk their life for the common good.

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