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Ebola and Inequality

NEW YORK – The Ebola crisis reminds us, once again, of the downside of globalization. Not only good things – like principles of social justice and gender equality – cross borders more easily than ever before; so do malign influences like environmental problems and disease.

The crisis also reminds us of the importance of government and civil society. We do not turn to the private sector to control the spread of a disease like Ebola. Rather, we turn to institutions – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, the World Health Organization (WHO), and Médecins Sans Frontières, the remarkable group of doctors and nurses who risk their lives to save those of others in poor countries around the world.

Even right-wing fanatics who want to dismantle government institutions turn to them when facing a crisis like that caused by Ebola. Governments may not do a perfect job in addressing such crises, but one of the reasons that they have not done as well as we would hope is that we have underfunded the relevant agencies at the national and global level.

The Ebola episode holds further lessons. One reason that the disease spread so rapidly in Liberia and Sierra Leone is that both are war-ravaged countries, where a large proportion of the population is malnourished and the health-care system has been devastated.