Today is the day that the Dallas/Fort Worth area breathes a collective sigh of relief.
Why? This is the last day of Ebola monitoring.
For a few days it seemed that the cities were abuzz about Ebola. As a hospital chaplain in the area, I could not help but overhear some of the conversations and concerns emanating from the health care teams as they hoped for a swift return to normalcy while they also feared and prepared for an unknown and potential crisis.
Today is the day when we take a collective sigh of relief, but I must say, “Not so fast.”
Something crept into my mind a few months ago when I first started to pay attention to the news emanating from West African countries. I have had a few sleepless nights thinking about this epidemic.
Was I afraid of contracting the virus? Was I afraid of what the virus would do to my body and its devastation prior to a possible demise? Does this virus serve as one more reminder that, while my body is good, it is also finite? There is more to these sleepless nights, I am sure.
I want to highlight two ideas that are shaping my own reflection about the global and local impact of this epidemic.
First, in a recent article, Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said, “The outbreak spotlights the dangers of the world’s growing social and economic inequalities. The rich get the best care. The poor are left to die.”
Chan highlights indisputable economic and social factors for global blindness toward the worst hit West African countries.
This offers a stark reminder that Ebola is more than a health crisis. It illustrates social oppressions and issues a call for social justice.
We need adequate and equitable health care distribution. We need to foster global economies that do not build our wealth to the detriment and exploitation of others.
Second, I am reminded that I am deeply impacted by Ebola.
This is not in the same fear-mongering way that some media outlets intend. I am a contributor to the matrices of privilege and oppression.
For this discussion, my positions of privilege include: not infected, white, middle-class, American, with access to Western medical facilities, standards of care and staff.
This not only decreases my chances of becoming infected, it increases my chances of surviving the effects of the virus.
How, then, am I directly impacted by Ebola? The same economic, political and xenophobic ideologies that encouraged global blindness at the onset of this epidemic in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are the same economic, political and ideological factors that create and enable my privilege for which I must take responsibility.
Ebola forces the global community to pay attention to disease in a new way. It is no longer sufficient to study only the epidemiology of a disease.
We are forced to consider how those of us with privilege are both complicit and complacent in the suffering and deaths of thousands.
Ebola is a demand for social justice. How do are our economic, healthcare, political and ideological frameworks enable those with privilege to thrive while simultaneously depriving others of their very existence?
This is a call for systemic change. Those infected and effected by Ebola demand better care, health care innovation, economic participation and infrastructure.
This is not the time for a collective sigh of relief. The disease should case us dis-ease with the ways in which our nation, churches and ways of living in this society of privilege turn a blind eye to the systemic suffering of this world.
Ebola is one of many global reminders, a prophetic voice, that when we embody privilege we also embody great responsibility. We are our sisters’ and brothers’ keeper.
We are called to disrupt systemic and oppressive power systems that privilege a few and deny life to so many. That’s what it means to be a part of a reflective, ethically-minded Christian community.
We are called to see the image of God in all of the inhabitants of this global community.
We should want all persons to not merely eke through this life as survivors. We should want people to thrive. Please let us not experience a collective sigh of relief.
Dawn Hood-Patterson is a doctoral student at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and a chaplain at Cook Children’s Medical Center. You can follow her on Twitter @DawnHoodPatt.