Ebola Outbreak And Outcry – Saving Thomas Eric Duncan, By Jesse Jackson...

Ebola Outbreak And Outcry – Saving Thomas Eric Duncan, By Jesse Jackson And Grace Ji-Sun Kim

By Opinions | The Trent on October 8, 2014
Reverend Jesse Jackson
Reverend Jesse Jackson (Photo Credit: Ebony Magazine)

by Jesse Jackson and Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Ebola! The news media has focused attention on an outbreak of the Ebola virus in the past month. According to the CDC, ebola causes the disease with “symptoms ranging from fever (greater than 38.6°C or 101.5°F), severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal (stomach) pain and unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising). Symptoms may appear 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola. People who recover from an Ebola infection will develop antibodies that last for 10 years.”

The World Health Organization has reported more than 5,800 cases of Ebola causing more than 2,800 deaths in the current outbreak. However, as reported in theWashington Post, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “assumes the actual number of cases is 2.5 times higher than what is officially known.” The CDC projects that 1.4 million people could be infected in Liberia and Sierra Leone by the end of January 2015.

The first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States is Thomas Eric Duncan. On September 20, 2014, Duncan, a Liberian national, arrived in Dallas. Reports indicate he came to marry his girlfriend. The couple has a son together. Duncan’s case has created anxiety, turmoil and discussion in this country.

Duncan fell ill a few days after arriving in Dallas. He went to the emergency room but he was sent home. Two days later he returned to the hospital with worsening symptoms. Many people are concerned by Duncan’s condition; some are troubled about how he is being treated.

Duncan’s case raises an ethical and moral question: Who gets treatment and why? The two American missionaries who contracted Ebola in West Africa were given access to an experimental drug cocktail called ZMapp. The drug has immune-boosting monoclonal antibodies that were extracted from mice exposed to Ebola DNA. This drug is not provided for the thousands of Africans who have the Ebola virus, including those who have died and might have been saved if given the experimental drug. Duncan is not being treated with the medication.

There is the question of the affordability of the drug and its efficacy. It is reported that doctors are not using the medication with Duncan for fear it might worsen his condition.

But there are also questions of giving the drug only to those whose cases will bring media attention — like the two white missionaries. Use in such high-profile cases could increase the number of investors and the amount of government money for further research into the drug cocktail.

The use of ZMapp raises the question of privilege. Is it only those with better connections to positions of power who will get a fighting chance to receive this experimental drug?

When Thomas Eric Duncan first became sick and went to the hospital, he was treated with antibiotics and sent home.

Duncan did not receive screening tests for Ebola on this first visit. The question is, why did they not keep him in the hospital for further screening and treatment? Accounts differ, but apparently Duncan did tell the hospital staff that he had travelled from Africa. While the hospital staff reports he did not say he had come from Liberia, should not the combination of his symptoms and his travel from Africa raised further questions?

Duncan has a foreign accent, black skin, and no health insurance. From a theological perspective, Thomas Eric Duncan is one of our brothers described by Jesus as the “least of these.” What role did his lack of privilege play in the treatment he received? He is being treated as a criminal rather than as a patient.

Duncan returned to the hospital when his symptoms became more severe. This time, he was admitted and is now in critical condition. And the question remains: Had the correct diagnosis been made on his first visit and he have received the appropriate treatment sooner, might he be better by now?

We are familiar with the stories of lepers during the time of Jesus. Jesus did not reject the lepers but rather touched and healed them. “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said, ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.” (Matthew 8:3). On another instance, Jesus healed 10 lepers (Luke 17:11). Jesus even visited the house of Simon the Leper at Bethany where a woman anointed his head with a costly perfume (Matthew 26:6-13).

Rather than turning lepers away, Jesus had compassion for them. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45). Jesus healed the sick, welcomed outcasts, and embraced the people living in poverty. He invites us and challenges us to do likewise.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to work for the day when those with privilege, most often white people, have greater access to better medical care than those whom Jesus calls “the least of our sisters and brothers.” As we treat our brothers and sisters, Jesus reminds us, we treat him. We are called to work for the day when everyone receives equal access to medical care. We need to save Thomas Eric Duncan.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published Tuesday, October 8, 2014. Duncan died on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at the Texas hospital where he was receiving treatment. 

Reverend Jesse Jackson is an ordained minister and renowned civil rights activist. He tweets from @RevJJacksonGrace Ji-Sun is visiting researcher at Georgetown University. She tweets from @Gracejisunkim. This article was first published in HuffPost.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


  1. Sigh. Very sad to hear about the death of Mr. Duncan. This article is attempting to put a racial/cultural spin on an ongoing health care crisis in the United States. That is simply not true. In an effort to educate you and your readers, I will attempt to simplify and explain and very complex issue regarding health care in the US:

    I am a US citizen, caucasian, born here, lived here my entire life. I am also working class. I had a bicycle accident Sunday whereupon I twisted my entire left leg and now cannot walk on it. I have not gone to the hospital because I cannot afford to, and I have insurance. It will cost me a co-pay of at least $2500 US Dollars that I do not have. You see, we do NOT have universal healthcare. We have to pay about a third of our income for medical insurance, on top of “co-pays,” “deductibles,” and out “out-of-pocket” expenses we incur while receiving treatment.

    I have worked as a medical professional in our hospitals. There is no doubt that having no insurance or ability to pay affects patient care. Poor people do not receive the caliber of care that those who are able to pay their medical bills do. It’s a sad fact here in the US. But to say that it is because he had a “foreign accent, dark skin” is absolutely incorrect. There are many, many caucasian US citizens that die every year because they cannot afford medical care. It’s about money, simple as that. Welcome to our health care nightmare.

    Even if Mr. Duncan did have insurance, he most likely would have still been sent home from the hospital due to his symptoms not meeting criteria set by insurance companies for admission. The medical staff simply never thought that their hospital would be the first one to see an ebola patient. They still blithely thought it an “African” disease. I’m sure they’ve definitely learned this lesson.

    Mr. Duncan caught ebola and died from it. Even with the best health care available, the latest anti-viral medications and a team of experts overseeing one’s care, there’s still better than a 50% chance that one will die of this disease. As you all know, it’s a horrible, ruthless disease.

    But please, do not blame his dying on his accent or color of his skin. The US is a unique blend of people from many different cultures. When it comes to medical care there is one absolute: Money. If you have it, you get better care. If you don’t, then hope you do not become ill, or like me, have an accident. It can bankrupt you, and you may even die. For you to point fingers at us and cry racism is a slap in the face to those of us who live here and watch our loved ones die due to lack of ability to pay for quality health care.

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