The Ebola crisis – we need to hear about the heroes

Two years ago, I was quarantined. Following a trip to Nigeria (and the privilege of working with the DFID funded ESSPIN programme), I returned feeling a little unwell and, before I knew it, people in biohazard suits were bundling me into an ambulance. Fortunately it was not Ebola and, in fact, just a slightly embarrassing case of man-flu. However, I was still extremely grateful for a responsive NHS keeping me safe.

At the time, the Ebola epidemic was a terrifying prospect with a wide range of possible outcomes. One of the worst scenarios I heard was that the largest annual gathering of people in the world, two million Muslims (including many from West Africa) attending the Hajj, could have become a focal point for a sudden and rapid spread of this deadly disease.

Fortunately, this did not happen and we have been blessed to see the Ebola epidemic contained, controlled and eradicated, with the MSF closing their final projects (supporting survivors) earlier this month. We were lucky, but it was not by chance that a pandemic was prevented; it was due to the bravery, commitment and skill of the medics and military who risked their own lives to prevent a disaster. 

In 2016, this dark political year of Brexit and Trump, I take great comfort in the fact that such heroes walk among us. Britain did play a major role in the Ebola response; the government needed to issue a letter of guidance to NHS staff wanting to volunteer to support the emerging humanitarian crisis. Yet somehow the commitment and sacrifice seems to be now widely unacknowledged.

Search the internet for “NHS Ebola” and you will find articles regarding Pauline Cafferkey (still suffering the health impacts of her sacrifice) and reports that a large number of NHS volunteers did not receive their bonuses, which David Cameron pledged to investigate prior to his self-defenestration.

What you will not find are reports of heroism and success, or of widespread recognition. In fairness, there was a parliamentary parade in September 2015, but one that I can only find reported by the NHS.

We do not only need heroes to protect us, but we also need them to inspire us. The failure to celebrate the Ebola volunteers is not only an injustice, but it was also an opportunity squandered.

Through years of economic uncertainty and austerity, our country has become increasingly divided and inward-looking. Following the destruction of the refugee camps in Calais, there are now 1,500 children sheltering in shipping containers with littles news coverage or public outcry. However, only two years ago our bravest and best played a major role in averting a global catastrophe.

As shown by the Remain campaign, hearts and minds are not won by economic arguments. Instead we must look for personal stories that truly exemplify our ideals and unite our communities.

The Ebola volunteers embody the very best aspects of a country I was lucky to grow up in. I hope we can start recognising and celebrating true heroism again.

* Jamie joined the Lib Dems in 2014 and was elected as City Councillor for West Chesterton in May 2018.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Oct '16 - 12:45pm

    Jamie this is excellent! I believe we do not , as a society ,take these crisis points very seriously . The problems are often both preventable and containable earlier. The WHO were and are very slow and the UN, like the EU, an organisation we both need and yet must improve , if it is to be a main player and part of our real life . As your article makes clear , much of the effort and risk was by those individuals and groups who put themselves forward, both from the public health services , in Brtain the NHS, and voluntary and charity workers from many countries as well.

    We need far more sensible and stringent activity on disease , here especially, as we , as a society are too laissez faire and complacent , the down side of the up side of our relaxed and tolerant society.

    We need heroes, too. And we should have less worshipping of someone for the sake of their being famous , and more respecting of those who actually do something special. Less celebrity culture , often worthless , yet worth a fortune in copy , and more celebration and cultivation of that which is worthwhile , and those worth their weight in gold , or a worth , immeasurable !

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