Monday, October 27, 2014


It seems that Ebola virus has come suddenly out of the dark of Africa to terrorize the world.  There are many factors in disease, but the darkness of war, how it bludgeons a people until they are more vulnerable to an epidemic, is certainly a powerful one.   Sierra Leone, with its contiguous countries Liberia and Guinea, was plagued by terrible war, contributing to its being prominent in the current lethal Ebola outbreak.

The body of a man thought to have died of Ebola on a Monrovia, Liberia, street on Monday--Photo by Daniel Berehulak, NYT
The CIA Factbook states that the civil war there displaced 2 million people, a third of the population, and killed tens of thousands.  The Department of State’s Country Study adds, “Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war destroyed infrastructure and truncated political, social, and economic development. … Sierra Leone continues to grapple with entrenched corruption, poor health conditions, weak governmental institutions, high unemployment, slow economic growth, abject poverty, and inadequate social services.”  This was their summation in January of this year—the Ebola virus resurgence began in March 2014.   Though not directly causing the epidemic, West African wars made this region ripe for disease contagion.

Many of us remember the movie Blood Diamond.  That was Sierra Leone, with diamonds and dollars the profits from civil war, child soldiers, ritual amputations.  Charles Taylor dictator of Liberia, now finally sentenced to life in prison for war crimes which spilled over the whole region, was one of the area’s death dealers.  Many other outside interests made off with their loot unscathed.  Charles Taylor’s guns were not made in Liberia.

President and warlord, Charles Taylor, involved in civil war in Liberia {and adjacent countries} 1980 - 2003

I began to investigate the relationship between disease and war because of a graph published on the high tech review magazine, "Wired’s", website.  It shows war casualties making a minimal .05% contribution to “causes of untimely death” worldwide.    My oldest daughter Maura who cofounded a state-of-the-art startup company, Bluhomes, pointed this out to me.   Perhaps healthcare [heart disease and stroke are the graph’s major negative factors], which has been my profession, can make better impact than peacemaking-disarmament, which I’ve made my vocation.  So this will be a focus of further study.

Stepping back from this model, it should be apparent at the outset that war’s casualties go well beyond those directly damaged by bullets bomb or machetes.   From war's acute effects arise also the chronic conditions of disability, polluted water supplies, inadequate food and shelter, all the stressors of poverty—PTSD {post-traumatic stress disease} being one of many.  All contribute to a disease and injury favorable environment.  Every block in the graph is adversely affected.   It's interesting going to the model creators' site to examine all their info images country by country.
here is very little written on this, but I found a book reviewed on the physicians’ website, Medscape, which addresses war and infectious disease—“War Epidemics” [see below].   It’s a textbook on that aspect of the subject, giving much information on the 1918 influenza epidemic which had WWI as an incubator, but pre-dates the current Ebola virus, and doesn’t look at all the other ways, besides microbes, in which war can be an early death multiplier.

I hope that we as a people will not minimize {as Wired’s article does} the ongoing and potential grave effects of war on our society and the world.   We have been brought at least once in my lifetime to the brink of nuclear war, which could possibly end human life on earth.   Short of extinction, war’s poverty breeds disease {and social dysfunction}, whether TB, HIV, malaria, Ebola—even, it could be assumed, increased risk of heart attack and stroke.  More of these connections need to be examined.

Even preparations for war promote disease and injury risk factors.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” --    1953 “Cross of Iron” speech by President Dwight D. Eisenhower—last president a career military man.
“The armaments race is to be condemned unreservedly. It is an act of aggression which amounts to a crime, for even when they are not used, by their cost alone, armaments kill the poor by causing them to starve.” --Vatican statement to the U.N., 1976
Preparations for peace, instead, are the effective social justice preventative medicine.  Working and praying for God’s healing, saving mercy.

War Epidemics: An Historical Geography of Infectious Diseases in Military Conflict and Civil Strife, 1850-2000
“The National Academies' matrix of conditions contributing to disease emergence mentions over 2-dozen contributing factors, with "war" being one. War Epidemics goes much further in explaining exactly how war rapidly produces ecologic change, population displacement, and environmental disruption, fostering new, unnatural nidalities for rapid diffusion of these diseases.”
“The authors make comparisons between historical morbidity and mortality trends in peace time vs war. They follow with discussions of massive civilian dislocations.”

Illumination by Kathy Brahney


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