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Dismantling Disease: Regent University Panel Examines Ebola

The international Ebola outbreak continues to make headlines of newspapers and rundowns of TV news scripts one case at a time. On Thursday, Nov. 13, the topic took center stage at Regent University. Experts shared history, tactics, and stories of success while students and guests sought to gain a greater perspective on this mysterious disease.

Dr. Mary Manjikian, an associate professor with the Robertson School of Government (RSG), laid the groundwork for understanding Ebola’s potential impact. She reminded the audience of the Black Death. It wiped out an estimated 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s population in the 14th century. This pandemic plumbed the population, killing nearly half of those it infected.

Monuments still mark many countries where the disease spread. Culture responded with songs and customs that carry on today in the fight against Ebola. Manjikian questioned whether the two infections are one-in-the-same, showing pictures of people protecting themselves in Black Death suits that resemble the protective precautions doctors take today.

Manjikian questioned how governments are responding to such disasters in our era of securitization. Do they enact martial law, engage in surveillance, quarantine people, and trample rights? RSG assistant professor Dr. Ionut Popescu moderated panel responses to these questions. Panelists offered domestic and international answers.

“The international strategy has five aims,” said retired Admiral Larry Baucom, an RSG adjunct faculty member. “We need to stop the outbreak initially, treat the infected, ensure essential services, preserve the stability of the region, and prevent future outbreaks. U.S. strategy aims to control the disease overseas, mitigate the impact at home, coordinate with a global response, and fortify the global health infrastructure to better respond in the future.”

The United Nations created a Mission for Ebola Emergency Response and many non-governmental organizations are offering aid. The United States has allocated more than $1 billion to its military and created a “czar” to fight Ebola. Communications, said Baucom, must be implemented correctly to reassure the public in a time of crisis.

“The United States needs to refine its crisis management capabilities on epidemics, because this was kind of sloppy in several cases,” said Baucom, citing conflicting reports and confusion from the United States government early in its handling of the Ebola outbreak.

Panelist Dr. Olusoji A. Akomalafe, professor and department chair of political science at Norfolk State University, said the United States is consulting with Nigeria in the handling of the outbreak. He said the Nigerian people thank the hand of God for protecting them during their Ebola scare.

According to Olusoji, a man with the disease was treated for malaria in a private clinic because Nigeria’s public hospital workers were on strike. Although he infected 20 people, killing eight of them after angrily removing his IV and releasing his blood, he was kept away from the general public and the disease was contained.

“A public emergency was declared in 2005,” said Akomalafe, “and they identified everyone who this man had contact with. Everyone was isolated. The ACLU didn’t stop the quarantine. Schools were closed, and mega-churches were advised to close.”

Akomalafe said that if proper precautions are taken, people crossing borders are screened, science is followed, and lawmakers pass policy that makes sense, Ebola can be defeated.

Regent University will continue to address the topic. Manjikian says RSG is adding a certificate class in health policy and ethics in the fall of 2015.

Learn more about RSG degree programs.