Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ebola--is New Zealand ready?

New Zealanders have been watching the terrible events re Ebola unravelling in West Africa, probably feeling thankful that we are so far away and have a health system that is the envy of many countries. Our isolation has served us well, but one only has to go back to the post-WW1 period to see that we are not immune from the spread of catastrophic diseases. The death toll from that episode in history rivalled the numbers caused by the actual war. Today we hear that a nurse in Australia has retuned from West Africa and is exhibiting some of the symptoms associated with Ebola. It is early days and the brave nurse took all the necessary precautions that whatever she has does not spread. If the disease has reached Australia, the 'ditch' will be just that---a very narrow body of water separating us from our cousins and the high level of contact between our two countries, essentially makes us as one. If it proves that Australia has its first case, it can only be a matter of time before we too face our first case. The question must then be asked---how prepared is New Zealand? We need to hear from our leaders, political and medical, what level of planning has been implemented. We need to know in very clear terms what we need to look out for, amongst those returning from overseas and be able to immediately access health services. The days of the 'flu epidemics' will prove to be small episodes compared to the havoc that could be wrecked if Ebola does arrive in new Zealand. The coming weeks and days are not the chance for political foes to 'strut their stuff.' They must put aside internal wrangling and inter party point scoring. It is also a time where openness is the driving force. Let us also learn form what wed have observed in those countries starting to experience victims of Ebola returning and the development of Ebola-type symptoms. Public panic could easily result and the best way to prevent that is to inform the populace. A good place to start is in our schools. Good teaching can always be the basis to inform families about the moves they should be taking. Our schools can be a very important focus for keeping us all safe. The social media can also step up, but we need to be aware of the more negative side to this very important aspect to our lives. Panic contagion, as a result of misinformation can spread far more quickly than the more traditional sources of information. That must be taken into account and if that means a level of monitoring--am I saying spying?--- then that may have to happen. Monitoring social media is a very sensitive issue, one that reminds us of other times in recent history, one that some states do as a matter of course. Who monitors the 'watchers? New Zealanders have risen to the occasion in the past in times of crisis and we must pull together and face what could be a very testing time in the months ahead. Let's remain open and be prepared to work together!