Legacy of Patient Zero


When Liberian national Eric Thomas Duncan, 42, known in the United States media circles as ‘Patient Zero,’  transported the deadly Ebola Virus Disease to the United States, authorities in Monrovia described him as a criminal who disobeyed Ebola tracking orders and deliberately tried to harm Americans.

  Lawmakers did not take it lightly and at one of the Ministry of Information’s news conferences, it was stated that if the late Eric Thomas Duncan had survived the Ebola Virus Disease, he would have been prosecuted.

 Of course, prosecutors in Dallas played with the idea that the late Duncan would have faced justice in court since it was apparent that he might have known that he had helped an Ebola patient in Liberia, but ignored rules in Monrovia that could have helped to identify and have him quarantined in Monrovia.

  His departure record indicated that he failed to answer—or said no to— crucial questions that were meant to identify those who had come into contact with an infected person. Mr. Duncan answered no to all such questions.

 Though the Americans in the end realized that the major issue was not who transported the virus into their country, rather how to cure the virus since, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it was a global crisis.

  True, many Americans saw the situation differently but in the end, Dallas and the state of Texas spent more than US$ 1 million to fight the virus by tracking down all those who might have come into contact with Liberian Ebola victim, Eric Thomas Duncan, otherwise known as ‘Patient Zero.’

  While the Americans were mobilizing resources to remove the virus from their country, back in Liberia lawmakers and others were planning to create a law to punish Duncan, should he survive the virus.

  Many Liberians, particularly those who did not agree to the Liberian government’s position to prosecute ‘Patient Zero,’ held the position that since the Ebola Virus Disease was not made in Liberia, and since many Liberians had become victims and since the government was also struggling to control the virus, it was immoral to argue about punishing him. In fact, many level headed observers were shocked about the absolute lack of compassion for Duncan.

  Duncan did not survive the infection due to mistakes that were made and admitted to by the Texas Presbyterian Hospital officials.  This has led to reported final financial settlement with Duncan’s family, which reports put at about US$250,000.00.

  Perhaps Liberian officials were shocked to hear the settlement and wondered what kind of people are these Americans, for paying a man who had transported such a dangerous disease into their country.

 What is more surprising, though, is that part of the agreement specifically stated that the city of Dallas would be responsible for Duncan’s four children, along with his mother, who is also in the United States.

  Sadly, back here in Liberia, hundreds who were infected were abandoned to die while others taken to treatment units have not been accounted for, prompting several threatened court actions against the Liberian government.

 The lesson from the Duncan crisis and what many Liberians have considered as American magnanimity is the fact that Americans, for whatever their mistakes in the Duncan issue, showed much more  concern in the end than what the Liberian government and other Liberians thought victims of Ebola deserve.


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