by Bill Onasch
Class, Color and Ebola
Today, Aljazeera America reported,
“Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said in a letter published Saturday that his country would send an additional 460 doctors and nurses to West Africa, where nearly 4,500 people have died from Ebola and another 5,000 have been infected. The team of medical personnel will join the 165 Cuban doctors and nurses who are already in Sierra Leone to help fight the epidemic. …Jorge Perez, the head of Cuba’s top tropical medicine institute, told The Associated Press that Cuba is ready to send still more doctors if there is enough funding and infrastructure to support them.”
Despite their small size, and difficult economic situation–resulting from the more than half-century long embargo on trade and travel imposed by the United States–this commitment is greater than that so far made by the USA. It graphically illustrates a major fundamental difference between the two governments.
Unlike Washington, Havana doesn’t view health care as a commodity, or foreign policy leverage. Cuba trains lots of doctors and nurses to provide free care to both their own people and unselfishly to others in need as well. When an uninsured Black man, recently returned from west Africa, showed up at a Dallas hospital emergency room with a fever and other symptoms consistent with Ebola, payment protocol initially sent him home with a bottle of Tylenol and instructions to drink lots of water. When finally later admitted he was too far gone to save.
Ebola is not a new disease. It was first identified in south Sudan in 1976. As “development” pushed bats thought responsible for spreading the virus to primates and humans in to populated areas there have been a number of major outbreaks in several African countries over the past 38 years. But there has been no available treatment drugs or preventive vaccines for this affliction with a very high mortality rate.
While there is clearly demand for such medicine it is not what economists call effective demand. Ebola country is the poorest region on Earth. Big Pharma is reluctant to invest in research and development for customers who can’t generate the obscene profits they have come to expect. Modest efforts have been slowed in this country by the bipartisan agreed cuts and sequestration in agencies regulating needed testing before new medicine can be approved for human consumption.
Since Ebola was thought to be Africa’s problem there has been little or no training of health professionals in this country and little thought given to the facilities needed for Ebola patients or protective gear for those caring for them either. But in a global economy Africa’s afflictions eventually wind up in the “advanced” countries–even in the heart of Texas.
One of the first Americans to contract Ebola was a registered nurse. National Nurses United quickly surveyed their members and found out just how unprepared hospitals and clinics were. NNU co-president Deborah Burger writes,
“NNU is calling for all U.S. hospitals to immediately implement a full emergency preparedness plan for Ebola, or other disease outbreaks. That includes
* Full training of hospital personnel, along with proper protocols and training materials for responding to outbreaks, with the ability for nurses to interact and ask questions
* Adequate supplies of Hazmat suits and other personal protective equipment
* Properly equipped isolation rooms to assure patient, visitor, and staff safety
* Proper procedures for disposal of medical waste and linens after use
“NNU is also calling for significant increases in provision of aid, financial, personnel, and protective equipment, from the U.S., other governments, and private corporate interests to the nations in West Africa directly affected to contain and stop the spread of Ebola.”
Such demands may seem self-evident common sense. But the commodity health system that has come to be the biggest industry in capitalist America seldom voluntarily spends a penny simply because it obviously makes sense. We are all fortunate to have the nurses union on our side until we can establish a health system focused on human needs such as the Cubans have done.
The Nuclear Option In Philadelphia
Perhaps the parents of the Governor of Pennsylvania were fans of the science fiction daily television serial that I loyally watched in my grade school days–Tom Corbett Space Cadet. But the fictional hero who defended liberty while piloting the Space Cruiser Polaris would undoubtedly be disappointed with his namesake today ruling the Commonwealth where America was born.
A Republican of the cracked tea pot variety, Governor Corbett has shredded education funding like he was making a Philly Cheese Steak. His appointees of the Schools Reform Commission have gone after public schools in his hometown of Philadelphia with particular zeal. A New York Times story comments on “… the state of austerity across Philadelphia, where this fall, the schools almost did not open on time, and the district has eliminated 5,000 staff positions and closed 31 schools over the last two years.”
But recently the SRC went much farther–abrogating the teacher union contract while immediately requiring teachers for the first time to start paying substantial amounts for their personal health insurance. A labor academic called such unprecedented action the “nuclear option.”
The top leaders of the rest of the Philadelphia union movement were so outraged they called a special meeting to discuss a proposal for a general strike–public and private sectors. But this massive retaliation to the SRC preemptive first strike was vetoed–by the leaders of the teachers. Ignoring the experiences of their sisters and brothers in Chicago, the PFT is instead doubling down on their support to a Democrat “friend” seeking to unseat the Governor.
Many had looked forward to CTU leader Karen Lewis challenging the incumbent Democrat enemy of public education in the Chicago Mayor election next Spring. Sadly we learned last week that Karen has a very serious brain tumor that will keep her out of activity for some time to come. I’m sure all readers join me in wishing Karen a full recovery.
It’s hard to find any kind words however for those teacher leaders in Philadelphia who are incapable of learning the most basic lessons so vital to their immediate future.
If Not Now, When?
I have so far just skimmed a perceptive article in the New Labor Forum entitled If Not Now, When? A Labor Movement Plan to Address Climate Change. The authors are Jeremy Brecher a co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability; Ron Blackwell a former Chief Economist of UNITE and the AFL-CIO; and Joe Uehlein, former Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department, and former director of the AFL-CIO Center for Strategic Campaigns. It is the latest update of a work in progress, quite comprehensive and compelling.
I will comment on their perspective, which I find generally pretty good, in coming Weeks In Review. I wish I had received it before my four day trip to Minneapolis. I was there to share a presentation at the Socialist Action national convention about workers and climate change with Carl Sack. Carl is the age of the grandson I never had, doing graduate work at Madison and active in the AFT local that represents them. He’s getting a good education in both science and working class struggles.
Our presentations were well received and well discussed by the delegates and guests. The resolution adopted shifted climate and environmental issues from being mainly dealt with by a few self-taught experts to the centerpiece of Socialist Action’s activity today. Veteran and novice alike learned from the exchanges and were energized by the optimism and enthusiasm that marked the gathering.
I’m glad I was able to attend. After the expenses of the Labor Notes Conference and the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster Strike commemoration earlier in the year I might not have been able to pull it off without a generous donation from a reader in southern California. If there are any other generous readers out there who haven’t chipped in lately I could use some more help soon with the end of year bills for server and domain registration fees looming. You are our only source of operating funds other than my monthly Social Security.
That’s all for this week.
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