ElijahCummings1

As our nation and the world face the deadly threat of Ebola, both our morality and our self-interest are at stake.

Between 1976, when Ebola Virus Disease was first identified, through 2012, there were 2,387 identified cases, including 1,590 deaths, all in Central and East Africa. Yet, many in other nations remained focused upon what seemed to be more pressing challenges.

I do not criticize their preoccupation.  All human beings tend to respond more sharply to the threats that we can see than we do to dangers that remain hidden from view.

As Albert Camus once observed, “ plague was an unwelcome visitant, bound to take its leave one day as unexpectedly as it had come.”
We now know, however, that any hope that Ebola would disappear was not to be fulfilled.

In March of this year, Ebola reemerged with virulence in West Africa and now ravages Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.  As of Oct. 22, more than 10,000 people have contracted the disease – and more than half of them have died.

American health care workers have not been immune.  They have contracted the disease from Ebola patients whom they were treating, both in Africa and here in the United States.

Thankfully, our very best medical institutions have saved their lives. Yet, the universal threat remains.

Our current national discussion about this plague is sharply focused upon two related challenges.

Intensive oversight is underway to determine the extent to which our hospitals are prepared to safely treat anyone who may have contracted this deadly disease.

In addition, we are debating the extent to which we must control access to America from the countries affected by Ebola – including temporary quarantines for those heroic Americans who have traveled to Africa in order to save lives, as well as for any Americans who may become infected here at home.

In a free society, these are complex issues that justify our most comprehensive national discussion.

Fortunately, we know how Ebola is transmitted and, therefore, have a scientific basis for containing the spread of this plague.

We know, for example, that Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected and symptomatic person or through exposure to objects (such as needles) that have been contaminated with infected secretions.

It is not a respiratory disease like the flu, so it is not transmitted through the air, through our food or through our water.

So, we can be confident that, in the short run, the Ebola Plague can be defeated here in the United States.  In the longer term, however, both the President and leaders of both political parties understand that we can only protect America by overcoming this crisis at its source in West Africa.

Even if there were no risk to Americans, we would have a fundamental moral and humanitarian obligation to address the crisis in Africa.  We are the richest nation in the world, and we have the resources and expertise to make the biggest difference.

Yet, for those who may not be convinced of this moral obligation to help, they should also understand that addressing the Ebola crisis in Africa is in America’s own self-interest.

Public health experts warn us that we must defeat the Ebola Plague at its source in Africa.

The longer the outbreak continues, they declare, the more likely it will spread to the rest of the world—including more cases right here in the United States.  Moreover, the experts inform us, if we do not take strong action now, it will cost us much, much more in the longer term.

Healthcare experts know how to fight this disease.  The World Health Organization has now declared Nigeria and Senegal free of Ebola – a tremendous accomplishment that was achieved through a combination of early diagnosis, contact tracing, infection control, and safe burial.

Yet, we still face grave challenges in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, where the public health infrastructure is deficient and new cases are increasing at an alarming rate.

I am proud to count myself with President Obama and other leaders from both major political parties who are stepping up to the plate in the battle to free Africa – and the world – from Ebola.

We recognize that the front line heroes who are fighting this deadly disease need all of the support that we can provide.  They need – and deserve – funding for treatment beds, training, and medical supplies, as well as for basic humanitarian resources like food, vehicles and fuel.

We can defeat this often deadly disease.  We must harness the public will and act.

We will have our controversy and debates.  Yet, I am confident that we can rise above our differences at this time of shared responsibility and peril.

As Albert Camus also observed, “What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of the plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.”

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.