Drama: Make-believe/The Last Ship vs. Real Life: The Ebola Outbreak

I’ve been watching “The Last Ship” a new drama series on television. I binged watched eight episodes in two days. It was the beginning of my vacation and I was trying to “veg out” from all the stress of my job, particularly in the last month. So why was I watching a show about a spreading global pandemic?

For the last month at work, I have been intensely dealing with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This dreadful disease has become an epidemic. There is no known cure for the virus that in the past has claimed the lives of 90 percent of its victims. The outbreak in 2014 has been the largest outbreak of Ebola in history and it happens to be in the region of the world that I have responsibility. I have been in constant conversations and meetings arranging flights for evacuation, dealing with death and attempting to calm fears. This has been the order of my days lately. That and seeing the increasingly horrible details in the media of riots at health facilities, health care workers not returning to work, death and more death.

The bright spot in this very difficult real life drama is that I have the pleasure of being accompanied in these task by two wonderful teams: the Global Mission Madagascar, West/Central Africa Team and Diakonia. We have been working together to build a response strategy for the ELCA that helps the crisis and holds up hope for the people in the region.

As I write, this Ebola outbreak has claimed over 1400 lives in Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Nigeria has the fewest cases at 12 with 5 deaths thus far. This is due, in part, we believe because of the preparedness of health care workers and facilities in Lagos.

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Dr. Scott from “The Last Ship” collecting samples.

On the make-believe show, “The Last Ship” millions of people have died all over the world from an airborne virus that no one has a cure of a vaccine for. One big plot line includes a female doctor, Rachael Scott, who is initially on the naval ship Nathan James through false pretenses. It is eventually revealed that she is on the ship to collect samples from birds who scientist believe are the initial carriers of the disease. Dr. Scott is collecting samples from places like Antarctica where they believe the virus originated so that she can develop some sort of treatment. Coincidently, the ships trip causes them to be away from the places where this airborne disease is spreading rapidly.

One thing that makes me profoundly grateful is that the Ebola virus is not an airborne disease. The Ebola virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person: blood, vomit, urine and other waste.Scientists believe that the virus originated from people eating wild infected animals specifically fruit bats that for some are a delicacy. The good news is that sitting next to someone who is infected is not a huge risk, but on the flip side caring for someone with the virus could be deadly. That is why many health care workers have become sick.

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Worker being decontaminated in Liberia

Unlike the modern and advanced technology that they have on the television show, health facilities in Liberia and Sierra Leone are not so well equipped. When the first cases were discovered in February there were no hazmat suits, no isolation wards and sometimes no latex gloves for health care workers. Health care workers in many of these facilities in West Africa still have very little protection and have been hesitant to return to work. Many organizations including the ELCA are responding to the crisis by helping to secure and air freight some of this personal protective equipment.

On the ship, on the television show, six volunteers were asked to be guinea pigs as a vaccine is tested. They are isolated in a well built isolation ward on the ship. All the doctors and anyone helping in the ward have pristine white hazmat equipment. The volunteers are injected with what is thought to be a vaccine; then they are injected with the virus. There are of course many plot twists and turns. The result of this activity is that one of the volunteers dies, but by the end of the episode the other five are recovering and Dr. Scott announces that she has found not only a vaccine, but a cure. The finale is on Sunday and I will miss the episode where they attempt to take this vaccine, this cure back to the United States where people have been isolated from one another and that has been pure chaos.

The finale of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has yet to be determined. Advisors from the World Health Organization (WHO) says that it may be anywhere from three to six months before the virus is contained. We who work for the church are hopeful; we are praying for God’s healing and restorative  grace to show us how to pray and to respond. Will you pray also? Will you donate to the ELCA Ebola Outbreak Appeal? Help hasten the end to this virus. It will not be as easy as eight 50 minute episodes, but with God’s help…….

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