Ebola Virus

By Alexandra Reich
Staff Writer

As the Ebola epidemic continues in West Africa, Ebola-related anxiety spreads across the United States. While it is natural to empathize with societies dealing with the epidemic, is the paranoia of the average American citizen over contracting the disease valid? So far, there have been only five confirmed Ebola cases in the United States. Although Ebola is deadly, it is not very contagious. Ebola is contracted through coming into physical contact with an infected person’s skin, bodily fluids, or contaminated surfaces. This means that a person is unlikely to contract the disease just by being in the vicinity of an affected individual; direct contact must be made. Ebola shares many early symptoms with the much more common and less dangerous flu, and symptoms can take up to 21 days to appear. It is also noted that a person with no symptoms is not contagious, even if they are carrying the disease. With the sanitary and educational resources that the United States possesses, a severe Ebola outbreak in the United States is highly unlikely.

Nevertheless, American citizens responded to the spread of the disease in West Africa and hints of the disease in the U.S. with disproportionately heightened levels of anxiety, especially after a commercial jet passenger, a healthcare worker, was reported to have contracted Ebola from her Ebola-infected patient. Although she had called the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before her flight and reported a fever, the CDC did not prohibit her from flying. As a result, the plane’s passengers were at a slight risk of contracting a disease that is spread through direct contact.

People who suspected they could possibly come into contact with a person who had been on that flight, even if highly unlikely, began to take extreme precautions against exposing themselves to Ebola. Multiple schools with potential connections to the flight carrying the Ebola-infected health care professional were shut down for cleaning. Even a local San Diego community college student recently misinterpreted her flu symptoms as Ebola symptoms, and her class was quarantined as a result. She was later confirmed not to have contracted the disease. Are these measures unnecessary and invoking of public fear, or are these safety precautions necessary in the face of insufficient governmental control of public health? The news of the Ebola-infected person on the plane was a very terrifying, and very tangible, situation. For many U.S. residents, sitting in close quarters with complete strangers is a daily occurrence. Also, even though the CDC claims the risk is low that anyone on the flight contracted Ebola from the nurse, they did acknowledge the possibility, and they are now seeking out the remainder of the plane’s passengers for interview as a precautionary measure, adding to public anxiety.

While these measures of shutting down schools may seem like a drastic and unnecessary precaution, the CDC has proven its incompetence in the past with the handling of the initial AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, the CDC was aware that the disease mostly affected homosexual men and intravenous drug users, and it could be passed from mother to unborn child [1]. These trends suggested, even before the HIV virus was scientifically dissected, that the reoccurring pattern of disease could be transferred by the use of shared needles or by bodily fluids during sexual intercourse. However, the CDC failed to put educational programs in place to help prevent the spread of the disease at this time. Therefore the spread of the AIDS virus in the U.S. was due to the government’s neglect of the situation. Looking at the research and initial treatment of AIDS illustrates the incompetency present in the United States’ public health system. The National Cancer Institute waited nearly two years before organizing research team [2]. It is logical that citizens can’t trust the United States system of public health because of its past failures.

However, the treatments of AIDS are also largely due to societal neglect, in addition to governmental neglect. The majority of the HIV-positive community in the U.S. consists of homosexual men and intravenous drug users (IDUs), many of whom were also racial minorities [3]. Homophobia and racism very likely have a hand in preventing adequate public health and medical care from being available to these populations. A prejudice existed against AIDS as a “self-inflicted” disease that used up medical resources [4].

The public’s response to AIDS was a lack of toleration, as opposed to the hyper-cautious approach to Ebola. The difference in response is mainly related to the transmission mechanism of the disease. While HIV, often transmitted sexually or by intravenous drug use, could be blamed on the individual, an Ebola patient could contracted the disease, in the public’s eye, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is why the closing of schools is passed off as a preventative measure and not excessively cautious. The similarities between AIDS and Ebola lie in the failure of governmental public health institutions. To clarify, the CDC handling of AIDS was a complete and total failure, while the CDC’s handing of Ebola, largely successful in containing the disease itself, has been insufficient to maintain a sense of public safety and security. In the face of high levels of public anxiety, the CDC needs to enhance education about Ebola, but more importantly, take the necessary measures to prevent slip-ups such as the Ebola-infected nurse flying on a commercial flight. The nurse’s presence on the plane did not result in the transmission of Ebola, but it did cause the escalation of public panic.

1. Perrow, Charles and Mauro F. Guillén. The Aids Disaster. 1990. pg 3-24.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

Image by Global Panorama


By AJ Thomason
Staff Writer

From its independence in 1818 until Augusto Pinochet’s rise to power in 1973, Chile stood as one of South America’s most economically stable countries while also remaining absent of the frequent springs of militaristic governments that plagued Latin America. Pinochet’s reign, assumed after a successful coup de’tat, lasted 17 years and left behind some 3,000 dead, a polarized citizenry and, among other things, a broken educational system.

In 1981, Pinochet began dismantling the free public education system and replaced it with a voucher program for primary and secondary education. This dissolved the centralization of Chile’s higher education, switching it with three tiers of schools run by municipal entities: government-funded public schools; private schools subsidized by the government; and private, fee-paying schools. The growing inequity of the quality of education between these systems, their accessibility and funding sources has manifested itself throughout the years and currently leaves Chile in the midst of its largest state of social unrest since its return to democracy in 1990.

The protests began on August 4, 2011 in the capital city, Santiago, after the decades old, ever-growing disparity came to light. Students took to the street en masse. Nearly 100,000 people organized to voice their collective message that inequality between the education systems available to the upper class and that available to the lower class is unfair.

The plight felt by these students is legitimate and backed by statistics. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has named Chile as the most socio-economically segregated country in regards to education opportunities. According to OECD, the average percentage of integration between students of different backgrounds is 74.8 percent worldwide. Chile rests at less than 50 percent.

Hugo Nicolás, a visiting Chilean student at the University of California San Diego, sums up the problem in the eyes of young Chilean academics. “The Chilean people” he said, “are in a process of significant change. Young people have awakened after 20 years. The problem is that in Chile education is a business, it is another product you can buy at the corner of your neighborhood. In Chile we want free education because the government can afford it.”

The protest and outcries have only grown since 2011; and the message has gotten engrained more deeply into the culture of consciousness that has swept Chile’s youth. April 11 saw the year’s first organized march—only this time a clearer message was presented. The cloudy Thursday morning was met with masses of students gathered in a dozen cities, with more than 150,000 people marching in Santiago alone. Rallies of this scale are organized by functional student run entities that have found that together the collective voice makes more impact than a myriad of individual cries of discontent.

Camila Vallejo is the vice president of the University of Chile Student Federation and also serves as a main spokesperson for the Confederation of Chilean Students. Camila provides an explanation for how marches of this scale are assembled. “What brings the students together, and the many organizations involved in this, is the fact that in Chile education has been turned into a consumer good, a commodity for consumption, which has created an enormously segmented socio-educational system,” she said.

Vallejo’s comments not only reify Nicolás’s claim, but also unify the message of the student body as a whole that the drag on justice created by the market driven nature of the educational system is no longer to be accepted. Vallejo adds that, even with 80 percent approval from the public, “our demands were simply not taken up and channeled through the institutional means, the political institutions that exist, and so there is a crisis really in political representation.”

The broken educational system in Chile is fortified and strengthened by the government lent media that, according to Noam Titelman, the current president of the Catholic University Student Federation, make it very difficult to reform. “They’re owned by the same people who want to maintain things,” he said.

Titelman highlights the classic struggle between the word on the streets that often rings most true, and the monopolized, faux-publicized word that reaches the ears of the global community.

Unique to this movement compared to others in recent history is the determination of those effected as a collective whole. After three years of tear gas, fire hoses, expulsions and blacklisting, students, educators and community members at large have maintained the cry for justice and change. With presidential elections just on the horizon, the dawn of that very change may be closer than ever for these soldiers of sense who believe that the government capable, be it for the people, is the government that should. November will mark a major movement either forward or backward for the Chilean students but, irrespective of the results, this generation of doers, who, in numbers found clout, will have had their message heard.

Image by Marie Barranco