Last Loft Blog…. Maybe

When I first came to New York 12 years ago, one of the first visions I had as I walked the enchanting village-like streets of lower Manhattan, was living in an apartment and writing.  In a million years it didn’t occur to me that this fantasy could or would ever come true.  Amazingly, it just did.  Karen’s fabulous “loft” and this blog merged during the past month and one of my most implausible dreams came true.  Not a wordsmith by any means, I love writing.  I also utterly adore this big, beautiful apartment.  I’ll always have the memory of my month here and I never want to mis-remember it.

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Karen will be here in an hour or two and my writing time will come to an end as we spend the next few days socialising, before I return to Cambodia at the end of the week.  So this could be my final New York blog, for now at least.  This morning I went to the cinema at 0940am.  Mr Turner stars Timothy Spall as an extremely eccentric William Turner, the famous English watercolourist who as it turns out, led a highly unusual life.  It was very good and there are at least four other films screening at the moment which I’d love to see.

Out of the cinema I had a to-do list to check off.  Annual influenza vaccine at the pharmacy – check.  Toy cars for Cambodian boys – check.  Toy dolls for Cambodian girls – unchecked (requires another trip to Midtown unfortunately).  Stockpile of Clarins face wash via Bloomingdales sale – check.  Home to try for one last Loft Blog – check.

It’s all well and good to have a place to sit and write, but finding material to write about can be a different story, especially on days when all you’ve done is check off your to-do list!  Reading often provokes a few thoughts which can jolt me into composing some words.  So I’ve read a few interesting articles on memory distortion.  This is of particular interest to me because I believe that in times of stress, we are more likely to form false memories of an event.  Experience has taken me from a belief that people making false accusations were deliberately “bad”, to instead believing that in fact, it’s something that we all probably do to some extent, and that many people “believe their own propaganda”.  Different people suffer different degrees of false memory and I suspect that mental ill health is somehow connected to more extreme levels of false memory.

A very interesting study from Time Magazine a year ago looked at two sample sub groups.  One with ordinary memory and another with what is known as HSAM (highly superior autobiographical memory).  HSAM is defined by an ability to remember the exact date that specific events happened, or highly specific details which most of us would forget immediately.  In the study HSAM was screened for by asking people for the date on which specific public events occurred.  Those who passed this screen were then given specific dates and asked to recall both a personal and a public event which occurred on this date.  In the study, 20 people qualified for the HSAM group and 30 for the ordinary group.  Despite the significantly superior memories of the HSAM group, they were found to be just as vulnerable to forming false memory as the ordinary group.  The conclusion of the study was that we all reconstruct events during memory formation in the same way, and therefore all of  us are vulnerable to memory distortion.  This is regardless of our recall skills.  http://science.time.com/2013/11/19/remember-that-no-you-dont-study-shows-false-memories-afflict-us-all/

Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph ran an article about Facebook in which 20% of young people admitted that their Facebook profiles bore little resemblance to reality as they fabricate relationships, work and holiday situations to impress others.  Psychologists have warned that online social networks are damaging to autobiographical memory which can become distorted by these fabrications.  “So recording our experiences through whatever medium, to later reminisce or revisit lessons we learned, is not only acceptable but desirable. In fact, looking back at our own past – however embarrassing or uncomfortable – is not just healthy but can be enjoyable.”   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11315319/Lying-on-Facebook-profiles-can-implant-false-memories-experts-warn.html

Although I try not to make this blog too autobiographical, that final quote seems like an excellent justification to continue blogging.

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New York Headlines and News From Cambodia

Any headlines from New York are interesting because, well, they just are!  This from this morning:

Thousands honour slain NYPD officer
Cops again turn backs on Mayor
Bratton: “Very inappropriate” to turn backs
Man, 31, shot and killed on Chinatown street
Suspect fired shots into Bronx Bodega
Arizona: Officer shot in face.  Suspect kills himself.
Texas: 3 adults, 1 child found dead in home
Long Island man dies after being hit by a police car.
Police: Long Island woman drove drunk with son in car
Missing Air Asia jet “likely at bottom of sea”
Greece: hundreds rescued from burning ferry
Chris Rock files for divorce
“Hobbit” rules the Box Office
New Al Qaeda threats against US
CA: Man stole hearse with body inside
Facebook apologises for “Year in Review”
War in Afghanistan is officially over
Hundreds celebrate Good Riddance Day where people shred their bad memories of 2014
Father gives daughter an actual frozen doll for Christmas, rather than a “Frozen” doll.  Accompanying video footage <hilarious> followed by commentators suggesting in song that the little girl “let it go”!

Blazers beat The Knicks
Jets beat The Dolphins
Eagles beat The Giants
Harbaugh out as 49ers coach

Weather: partly cloudy, high 43F.  Tomorrow: partly cloudy, high 37

Traffic: Cars moving along very nicely as people make their way into the city – cars not even having to pump the brakes which they typically have to do.  It’s much the same across the city.

This morning Helen will attend an 0930am film because in New York City you can do anything at any time of the day and soon she won’t be seeing any films at all!

One of our “Mums” at the Children’s Home (the name used for the carers who cook, clean and look after the children) broke her leg at work about six weeks ago.  There is a lot of discussion happening about whether we can continue to employ her for the extended duration it is taking for her leg to heal (likely caused by underlying malnutrition).  Thankfully Cambodia does have labor laws, which should help our decision.  It is awful having to discuss the livelihood of someone who earns $100 per month and could face all the complications and stresses of extreme poverty if she loses her only income.  I am looking forward to getting back there and sinking my teeth into being productive again.  The blogs should develop more of a human-interest aspect to them soon enough.

The person I am most excited about seeing again is little Dara, the amputee from Shackville.  None of my friends have seen him since I left town and so we think he has returned to his grandparents’ village.  Thankfully Chom knows the way there so we will head out there on his tuk-tuk a day or two after my arrival in town.  I’m also attending a local non profit organisation’s ten-year anniversary celebrations the day of my return.  The following day I have an appointment at Phter Koma to discuss recommencement of the children’s English lessons.  The first Saturday I am back I’m leading a staff meeting at Phter Koma.  Lots to look forward to!  Meanwhile, the near-panic about my pending departure from here is starting to take hold, so forgive me if my blogs, which I know have seemed more “travel journal” recently, are less intelligible over the next few days.

Below, a recent email exchange with one of the Phter Koma children (who I’ve Skyped with weekly in my absence), to end with a chuckle:

hello Helen
how are you? I am fine
I am smart boy
are your smart
merry chaistmas
goodbye

Hello <name>!
I am fine thank you.  Thank you for emailing me.
Yes, you are smart, I agree.  But are you kind?  That is more important!
Yes, I am also a bit smart.  Maybe not as smart as you though.
Merry Christmas and see you on 6 January!
Love from
Helen

Drama in a Miniature Metropolis

This is the sixth time I’ve holidayed in New York in the past 12 years.  It has always seemed colossal.  During my first visit in December 2002 I walked into Central Park with English friends and after a reasonably short time we approached some residential buildings on the edge of the park.  We stopped to orientate ourselves and determined after some discussion that we must have arrived in Harlem, on the park’s northern boundary.  After all, we’d been walking quite a while and despite walking the length of the park already, we were quite lost in the immensity of it.  A woman nearby interrupted us to explain that we were looking at apartment buildings on the West Side, and had in fact, hardly ventured into the park at all.  As it turned out, all we’d done was walk somewhat diagonally across the 0.8km width of the park, rather than the 4km length.  Although the distance we walked was probably much further courtesy of the various winding paths, waterways, rocky outcrops, bridges, parks-within-the-park, etc which we traversed.

Another example of the seeming magnitude of New York is the way I used the subway to get around, until this visit.  I went in and out of underground stations daily, assuming that everything was very far away and I needed to be transported there.  This happened to me when I first moved to London 25 years ago.  I remember walking through tunnels underneath Charing Cross Station to transfer between two tube lines in order to reach Embankmemt Station.  When I came out of Embankment, Charing Cross Station appeared about 50 metres up the lane from the entrance into Embankment Station.  I must have walked tenfold the distance underground than if I had exited the station and walked up Villiers St.  It’s very easy to get things wrong like this in a city you don’t know.  Pondering this today, I think it has probably taken me an accumulated average of about 3 months to become oriented enough in each of these two big cities, for things to shrink-to-scale.

This time around I have started to grasp the scale of New York and it really isn’t as colossal as I once perceived.  It’s big, there is no doubt about that.  Yet, you can walk many distances which I previously thought needed a subway or other transport.  Today I walked from our street in SoHo, up to midtown on 48th street.  That’s more than 48 blocks and it only took an hour.  According to Google maps, it’s a distance of about 5km, so my round trip was a 10km stroll.  Mostly along 6th Ave and then Broadway.  Interestingly, at Broadway the landscape is quite distinct depending on which area you’re in.  I walked past Washington Square Park, up to Union Square which I entered from an angle I didn’t recognise, as I’ve always come out of the subway exits.  Once these parks, which are both part of the New York University scene, seemed a long way from each other and I had only ever traveled between them on the subway.  Today the walk between the two took about quarter of an hour.  I had no idea there was a statue of Ghandi in Union Square, but there is!  Today there was also a Love Messenger performing an obscure dance in the winter air in his undies!

At around 20th Street the surroundings become a little less salubrious for a few blocks, with groups of young black men hanging around the corners, apparently doing nothing but cat-calling to attractive young women who happen across their path.  Thanks to my obsession with The Wire (set in Baltimore), I had them pegged, correctly or not, as drug dealers.  The best conversation I heard was on the corner of 28th:
“Yo bro, what’s your name?”
“Concrete”
“Nah bro, what’s your name?”
“Nigga!  It’s Concrete!”
At around 30th Street the crowds start to thicken and by 34th Street you have to stand your ground or risk being pushed and shoved from every direction.  This continues to at least 50th Street, when it thins out a little again up to Central Park, where there’s enough space for everyone.  Most of this area is the part of New York that I have developed an intense dislike of, mainly due to the crowds.  Yet there are many worthy places to visit in this area, the most obvious being Broadway for the theatre but also historic places of interest such as the magnificent New York Public Library; Grand Central Station; United Nations; Museum of Modern Art.  So any visit to New York requires the irritating experience of taking yourself into Midtown.

On the way home tonight I developed a new sense of Greenwich Village, which continues to confuse me.  As I’ve said before, for years I’ve envisaged the Greenwich Village – SoHo proximity in a particular and disoriented way.  We’ve always walked in a certain direction to get between the two neighbourhoods, which never seemed to make sense in my mind and if I go alone, I always get lost because the two neighbourhoods are never where I think they are from each other.  Walking home in the dark this evening, the Greenwich Village lights above Bleecker Street were in exactly the opposite direction than where my mind envisaged they should be.  However, with Washington Square Park now placed firmly in my mind, directly above SoHo and not off to either the East or West as I’ve consistently but unsuccessfully tried to comprehend, I think I may finally have re-oriented my confused brain.  I guess I’ll find out on tomorrow’s jaunt about the streets!  Getting lost in New York is a part of the fun anyway, as my daily confusions can attest.

Today’s holiday treat was the musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Walter Kerr Theatre on West 48th Street.  Broadway’s theatres seem to be much smaller and less remarkable than those in the West End.  London’s  theatres often have beautiful exterior architecture; grand and ornamental lobbies with plenty of standing room for milling crowds before and after the show as well as during interval; large stages with vast orchestra pits; and large auditoriums often seating thousands.  In contrast, Broadway theatres have unremarkable exteriors with the exception of their flashing billboards; they have small, basic foyers of about two metres wide, leading from the street straight through to the auditorium which always seems to seat hundreds rather than thousands.  The stages I can remember seeing on Broadway have all been small.  This simple difference makes theatre-going in the West End quite distinct from theatre-going on Broadway.  Both theatrelands attract more than ten million patrons each year.  As both productions I’ve seen on this visit have comprised all-English performers, I assume there is some sort of commercial collaboration between the two cross-Atlantic, billion-dollar enterprises.

Another difference about the theatre in 2014, from my time as a regular theatregoer in London during the early to mid 1990s, is cost.  Today if you want good seats on Broadway you will pay between US$100-$150, although it’s possible to get cheaper seats and also possible to pay significantly more for premium seats of choice, depending on the show, time, media acclaim and lead actors, etc.  During my time in London I don’t believe I ever  paid more than £10 per ticket, meaning I could attend a show on both Friday and Saturday nights, which I did for about two years.  At that time I was familiar with every show playing in the West End but at this time I’ve had to curb my attendances to two for the month, as a special treat, which has cost me US$300!  (I’ve also seen some comedy and music at a fraction of the cost of Broadway tickets).  My guess is that this massive cost increase over 20+ years has to do with a combination of factors including demand  – perhaps live mainstream theatre wasn’t as popular with the masses 20 years ago?  Live theatre is now a popular career move for famous screen actors who likely drive costs by demanding high incomes.  Bradley Cooper is currently performing the lead on Broadway’s recently-opened The Elephant Man at The Booth theatre on West 45th Street.  Ticket prices range from US$90 (advance purchase, certain seats only) to US$190.  The show is sold-out.

Broadway is not the only sell-out event on Manhattan.  Getting seats in a restaurant on New Years Eve was quite a triumph.  We have 6pm reservations, the latest we could get, so we’ll be home well and truly before the real celebrations begin.  But with a gourmet meal under our belt, we can then wander back to SoHo and sip champagne in The Loft for my final night here.  Thankfully returning to Cambodia after 10 weeks away is a happy plan which will make my departure from New York a reasonably soft blow.

32 Deacon Street

A brief but touching story about Ebola, referred by an Australian friend currently in Sierra Leone.

Dr Charles

Fatmata first heard of Ebola from a lesson at school. The whole class of 6 year olds was told of a sickness that made you so weak you could not eat or drink, and that it was creeping through Sierra Leone. It was spread through touching and kissing, especially after somebody died, when their body was being prepared to help their spirit move on.

IMG_2816Then, at the beginning of September, her school remained closed after the summer holiday.

“People cannot touch each other. You mustn’t touch your friends; you mustn’t touch your family.” she was told.

It wasn’t until the middle of November that she saw Ebola first hand. Her eldest brother, Mohammed, worked as a trader, selling phone cards and trading currency at the busy junction near their home. With Mohammed weak and aching, his mother dialed the emergency 117 number that was advertised on the radio to call…

View original post 623 more words

Getting My America On

After a beautiful three days in rural America, only an hour from Manhattan, I caught the train back this morning to “get my New York on” in the lead-up to my departure in six short days.  If this is what three weeks in America does to my language, we should all hope that I don’t spend too much more time here!

American hospitality as I’ve experienced this month and particularly over Christmas deserves a mention.  Not only have I lived in Karen’s “city loft” for a month, but she had me at her sprawling family home over Christmas.  The evening of Christmas Eve was spent at her in-laws’ beautiful home with the log fire ablaze and Christmas tunes crooning, surrounded by Cuban, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Scottish, Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey accents.  Photographs of the hostess’ recent work/philanthropy-related trip to Cambodia framed dining room walls, making me feel even more welcome than I already was.  We sipped wine as baked salmon, lobster, roast beef and many trimmings were placed in the centre of the 16-seat dinner table.  Visitors came and went, Karen in her sobriety almost walked through a glass door, conversation and laughs flowed and gifts were exchanged.

For the next few nights I slept in Karen’s basement.  Set into the hill atop which her home sits, this could be a self contained home in it’s own right, with a floor space bigger than my whole home.  The following morning we sat around her log fire in our pyjamas, opening presents with decorative Santas watching down on us from the mantlepiece.  This was followed by a cooked brunch of duck bacon (how is that a thing?!), sausages, scrambled eggs and a Swedish pastry called an Ebelskiver, cooked in Karen’s specialty pan (per the pic).

Ebelskiver pan and breakfast Ebelskivers

Ebelskiver pan and breakfast Ebelskivers

An American Christmas tradition I had never heard of, is the 24 hour “marathon” replay on TBS channel of a film released in 1983 called A Christmas Story.  An adult narrator reminisces about the Christmas he spent as a 9yo, with his parents, younger brother and school mates during a snowy few weeks in smalltown America.  A similar genre to The Wonder Years, a TV series I loved as a child, this film is a must-see if you enjoy children and their perspectives on life.  We played it in the “middle lounge” most of the day, for anyone who wanted to stop in and catch up on “Ralphie” and his crazy family and friends.  Around this, Karen cooked almost all day; visitors came and went; gifts continued to be exchanged at regular intervals; we finally got out of our pyjamas; Moët & Chandon was served; “salad on a stick” was served; dinner guests arrived; roast lamb and vegetables were served; card games were played; many laughs were had.

"Salad on a Stick".  Delicious!

“Salad on a Stick”. Delicious!

My golden Christmas stocking!!

My golden Christmas stocking!!

Yesterday Karen drove me to the Pennsylvania border, where we strolled around a beautiful river town with a variety of charming colonial homes and boutique shops, then wandered across a bridge over the Delaware into Pennsylvania for more charming village scenes.  Karen is pleased to have “broken” me of my Manhattan fixation and it’s certainly true that there’s more appeal in America than just the allure of New York.  On our way to the train station this morning four young deer wandered up the sidewalk and crossed the road in front of us – you don’t get to see that in the city!

Colonial home on the Delaware River

Colonial home on the Delaware River

American doorways at Christmas

American doorways at Christmas

The train journey back to Penn Station New York this morning was quick and easy until we arrived at Penn Station New Jersey where crowds converge from any number of inward-bound trains to board the New York-bound engine.  Sitting at the front of a carriage looking at the wall with my earphones in situ, it took me a few moments to wonder why the train wasn’t continuing.  Only when I looked outside at an empty platform, then behind me at an empty carriage, did I realise I was at the end of the line and was about to return whence I’d just come!  Jumping up in a panic as the conductor appeared beside the nearest door, I apologised that I hadn’t heard the announcement.  Rolling his eyes, he opened the door for me just before the train reversed back for it’s outward-bound passenger pick up.  Phew!

A few platforms away, crowds of us crammed into the New York-bound train and spent six minutes squashed in the aisles and doorways, chatting casually to wile the time away as we rolled slowly through New Jersey, descending down under the Hudson River and back up into Penn New York.  Penn Station (at 34th St) and the blocks of Manhattan around it to the North into Times Square (around 42nd Street), are just as crowded as the trains hauling their human cargo into the area.  It’s not a part of New York that I like to be without a specific purpose so I quickly hit the subway and made my way south to SoHo, where unlike Midtown there’s a bit of space between the bodies winding their way around each other.

One of the neighbours in our building is a reasonably well-known actor who I have not yet had the excitement of sharing the lift with, despite my chances being fair (Karen had a brief chat with him last week, typically in my absence!).  Our front door at the street this morning had a courier ticket taped to it, addressed to him with his full first name (as opposed to the abbreviation that he is generally known by) and the first initial of his surname.  I have no idea why, but seeing this ticket on “my” door and knowing who it was intended for, gave me a sense of “Hollywood insider”.  I may never get to meet him in the lift or lobby, but I’ve seen his mail!

This afternoon while writing this blog, the next door neighbour’s au pair rang our buzzer.  I picked up the door phone to view her in a CCTV-like image as she explained that she had gone out and left her lift key behind and would I please call the lift up to our floor so she could get back into the unlocked apartment.  Unsure of myself, I called Karen in New Jersey for advice and she assured me that I was talking to the au pair and she wasn’t a burglar conning her way into the building!

Everyday occurrences for those around me, are novel, getting-it-on experiences for this hillbilly bumpkin.  With only five days left, I love getting my America on!

Curious Incidents

About eight years ago I read a great book, written in first person by an autistic teenager describing his interpretation of the trouble he can’t seem to stay out of.  The author won a number of writers’ prizes for his novel, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime, published in 2003.  In 2012 the English National Theatre adapted it to a stage play which moved to Broadway a few months ago at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.  Tonight I went to see it and loved everything about it, from the English actors (a total of ten who played many different characters) and the modern, moving, technicolour stage, to the cleverly portrayed storyline.  The standing ovation at curtain call showed I wasn’t the only one who loved it.

Tonight, as with many days and nights this trip, I walked instead of using the subway.  Manhattan Island has shrunk.  Not literally, but in my mind.  With few hills, points of interest on almost every block, and the easy street plan of North-South Avenues crossed by East-West Streets, Manhattan is a walker’s dream.  The only place I ever get lost, and I get lost every time I go there, is Greenwich Village which is just south of the grid-pattern streets and has a number of diagonal streets which never fail to confuse me.  After living there for a month four years ago, I still can’t get my bearings and continue to confuse north with south, east with west, even on corners where yesterday I appeared to have it figured out.  Yesterday I left SoHo and walked over to Karen #2’s place.  I stood on the sidewalk downstairs from her apartment and rang the buzzer.  She spoke to me briefly then met me on the sidewalk and we walked a short way to The Meatball Shop, a trademark institution, for lunch.  As I stood on that sidewalk, it hit me just what a “local New York” experience I was living!

Another current day American trademark is a recently transmitted podcast called Serial.  Available free on iTunes podcasts, this documentary series is divided into twelve episodes of an hour or less, each released a week apart.  It follows the plot and characters of a real-life murder mystery.  A young woman Hae Min Lee was killed and left in a shallow grave in Baltimore in 1999.  Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, 17 at the time, was found guilty and is serving life in prison for her murder despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime.  Serial interviewed him, his family, colleagues, friends, accusers and other significant characters to the story, which twists and turns and leaves you hanging.  Ultimately they do not reach a conclusion as to Adnan’s guilt, but enough doubts are cast that you are left well aware that the criminal justice system is riddled with flaws which can ruin innocent lives and see no justice for victims.  The final episode opens a can of worms related to other suspects of the crime who were not investigated properly at the time.  It is well worth a listen if you’re looking for something to occupy your time.  Look for Serial, via This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig who uncovers the story over 12 weeks.

Business Insider pubished this article today, about Serial.  “America’s Most Popular Podcast Exposed the Ugliest Parts of Our Justice System”.  http://www.businessinsider.com/serial-podcast-says-a-lot-about-americas-criminal-justice-system-2014-12  A curious incident and one which will probably / hopefully continue to unfold over the coming months.

Merry Christmas, Ebola

After my first “Ebola friend” spent six weeks in Liberia back in August, she returned to Texas at almost exactlly the same time as Thomas Duncan, the first Ebola patient to be diagnosed on United States soil.  My friend stayed at home and away from people for the 21 day incubation period, as a precaution despite being asymptomatic.  This was mostly to assuage the fears of friends and family, who connect “Ebola” to fear of widespread death and destruction, as has happened to the unfortunate West African nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.  A couple of months after her return, this friend and her husband went out for dinner with a couple who she described as “possibly in line for friendship”.  However, when the wife started berating Duncan as a Jihadi terrorist, bent on bringing Ebola to the US as a terrorist act, their friendship plans were quickly terminated!  Since then, friends and colleagues from Australia have been arriving and bumping into each other in Sierra Leone, eliciting mixed feelings of relief, guilt and jealousy in me from afar!  The global community and the Australian government appear to have finally grasped that they need to get involved in this public health emergency.

In my experience, infectious diseases always evoke panic and crazy (P&C).  My first memory of this was the discourse during revelations about HIV as a newly discovered virus in the 1980s, when homophobia and conspiracy theories abounded.  Public panic was best illustrated to me in 2009 when we found ourselves responding to the Swine Flu pandemic at a time when noone was sure of the virulence of this newly evolved virus.  Initially Swine Flu had a higher mortality rate than the usual circulating Influenza strains, and it spread quickly from it’s origins in Mexico, arriving in Australia two months later.  Most of our time was spent responding to the Worried Well, with phone calls coming through from people no doubt meaning well, but causing an unnecessary “clog” on our telephone lines and obstructing our ability to cope with the actual response required.  It was a stressful, chaotic time which will stay with me as one of my “career traumas”.

From my time working on Swine Flu, the story which had the biggest impact on me as a public health worker trying to impose sanctions on an unwilling public, is one which came out of Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak in 2003.  A concentrated outbreak of SARS occurred in a specific housing complex in HK and the whole complex was placed under quarantine.  After quarantine had been imposed, police attended the complex to discover over half of the apartments were empty.  This is a perfect example of the effectiveness of health systems.  Even in well resourced countries, mass scale epidemics can be difficult to contain due to public response, and infectious diseases are always closely connected with public behaviour, both in the way that they spread, and the way in which they may or may not be contained.  Public health workers need to be versed in psychology as much as infectious diseases in order to provide adequate responses to the human hosts of these diseases.  We are not just doctors, nurses, epidemiologists etc, but we are also, always (admittedly unqualified) social workers, counsellors, psychologists, anthropologists and politicians!

It is well publicised that the current Ebola outbreak devastating large parts of West Africa has received a very poor international response.  Fears of sending foreign nationals to these areas and false beliefs that national border control measures could protect the international community appeared to me, to be behind this shockingly inadequate response. Thankfully, as is usually the inevitable case, common sense is eventually, albeit slowly, winning out.  Not before over 7,000 people have lost their lives.  The epidemic has continued unabated for so long that it will take a huge concentrated effort to contain it now.

Dr Paul Farmer from Partners in Health said it best, as he always does, when he wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post in August.  Remembering the Western experts of 15 years ago who said there was nothing which could be done to help HIV/AIDS patients in poor countries, and outlining what has since been done to turn the tables on the AIDS epidemic, he expanded this to outine the take-no-action excuse which has been used in Drug Resistant TB, Malaria and many other “poor peoples'” diseases.  He then says, as I have quoted before, “The Ebola crisis today is a reflection of long-standing and growing inequalities of access to basic health care”.  For those who don’t understand the practical significance of this statement, an example from a recent media report explains it well in one single scenario. Kenema, Sierra Leone – Alex Moigboi was panicking. He was preparing to enter the Ebola ward wearing just a pair of gloves and a plastic gown over his scrubs. It was totally inadequate—like a firefighter entering a burning building wearing a pair of Ray-Bans—and Alex knew it. But he couldn’t find the rest of the protective gear he needed: goggles, a Tyvek waterproof suit…..  Alex was angry, crying, desperate. But his patients, piled three to a bed in the ward, needed him. He steeled himself to go inside. Alex later became one of dozens of health workers who died from Ebola here at Kenema Government Hospital this summer.  http://www.wired.com/2014/12/sierra-leone-scientists-research-why-some-survive-ebola/

Clearly, situations like this, which occur daily elsewhere, are unheard of in rich countries.  This is exactly why the Ebola crisis will never be more than an odd sporadic case in places like Australia and America.  While Influenza which spreads so much easier than Ebola, kills more than 1,500 Americans every year, Ebola so far this year has killed one American.  Yet compare the public’s indifference and even opposition towards Influenza vaccination with the panic over Ebola and you get a good illustration of the way in which human behaviour and infectious diseases are so interconnected.

Even if we reject the global-citizen view of our place in the world, today’s Ebola crisis and the risk it places on all of us when public health in faraway locations is threatened to the point of causing economies to collapse, surely demonstrates a need to act for the good of us all.  That is not to say that Ebola itself could be our downfall, but the effects of Ebola are so far reaching that the decimation of already-crumbling health systems elsewhere could easily impact upon the world by affecting our economies and political stability.

As Christmas approaches and I watch the crowds in shopping centres, or walking local streets loaded with bags of gifts, I wonder how different it could be if we all directed a fraction of what we’re currently spending on unnecessary luxuries, towards an Ebola cause such as Medecins sans Frontieres, Partners in Health or Red Cross?  A list of charities responding to the Ebola crisis can be found here: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1794#.VJmZZcAKA