An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Though is it a truism, it is still true, especially in the case of a serious disease that can be fatal in up to 90 percent of the cases and for which no antidote or vaccine is currently available. Ebola is a deadly virus that is causing a panic in several African countries.
Transmission of the disease itself is not difficult to control with prompt identification and proper precautions. It occurs with close physical contact, especially with blood and other body fluids, and many people are infected taking care of the ill and the dead without simple protection, such as gloves, facemasks, and so on.
There is a reason that severe outbreaks such as the present one occur in poor, less-developed countries. They have limited knowledge of proper procedures, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate hospital and health-care facilities. Reuse of hypodermic needles is not uncommon, increasing chances of infection when a needle is used after treating an Ebola victim. When cases do occur, the present state of health care can actually intensify the problem, with hospitals being a focal point for disease transmission.
The present outbreak will take a tremendous effort to contain and eliminate, but the long-term cure for this, as well as many diseases haunting poor nations, is prosperity. As the wealth of a nation improves, so does its sanitation, its facilities, and its education. As individuals prosper, they can afford better care and medicines, cleaner surroundings, and healthier lifestyles. Ebola virus is the cause of the disease in particular human beings, but the outbreak itself is a symptom or a symbol of an underlying deficiency in those societies.
The people of Western, developed nations must stop looking at those in poor countries as helpless children needing sympathy, dependent on our beneficence. They are real people doing what they can, given the circumstances under which they operate.
Those circumstances are the problem. They include a host of political and cultural impediments to individual wealth accumulation. The wealth of a nation, however, is a function of the wealth of the individuals. Prosperity comes only from productivity, and productivity increases when people are able to accumulate property to invest in productive activities. There is no other route to widespread wealth and a large middle-class.
There also is no such thing as a cure-all for all diseases of either individual human beings or of societies. Every human disease has a cause, and cure and prevention require removing or preventing that cause. Each nation has its own, unique set of problems, cemented in place by incentives built into laws and institutions. Every poor society is so because there are particular obstacles to prosperity preventing the individuals from doing what is in their own best interests.
Nations that discourage private accumulation of wealth, because of either the politics or a culture of jealousy, will suffer mass poverty, with wealth concentrated among the elite. Confiscation and high taxation take wealth from the producers directly. Burdensome, conflicting, and unjust laws make it difficult to start and operate businesses and breed corruption among government officials. When there is little respect for the rights of individuals, the individuals cannot prosper.
The cure for poverty is personal prosperity. However obvious that may seem, it also seems to be the most overlooked factor in development economics. That same personal prosperity, however, is also the vaccine against health crises such as Ebola. Let's fight Ebola in the short run, but let's fight for the rights of individuals in poor countries so that, in the future, they will have their own resources to do the fighting.
Daniel McLaughlin is a Randolph resident. Visit daniel-mclaughlin.com for more commentary, for links to other resources, or to leave a message.