Obama’s hug felt ’round the world

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Obama’s hug felt ’round the world

Ebola is synonymous with death. The fatality rate exceeds 50 percent, and panic often blinds reason. Ebola can be contracted only by direct contact with the bodily fluid of an infected, symptomatic person. But the public is not buying it. Schools are closing, and people avoid contact. It is the fear of Ebola, not the virus itself, that consumes society.

Earlier this month, Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient in the United States after being infected in Liberia, died, and two nurses who cared for Duncan were diagnosed with the disease. The fear of Ebola snowballed in the United States. Recently, an Ebola case was confirmed in New York, a city of more than 8 million residents, many of whom use public transportation. The seed of panic has been planted in an ideal place to grow.

Naturally, there are some politicians who want to exploit the public’s fear. Some call for banning entry to the United States for people from West African countries where Ebola is rampant. New York and New Jersey have decided to quarantine medical staff who return from the countries. Yet, the history of fighting disease has taught us that isolating the outbreak regions only courts greater disaster. It would discourage patients from seeking medical treatment in the early stages of the disease. However, an increasing number of politicians attack the position of health care professionals.

Amid the controversy, a photo captured the attention of the public: President Obama’s embrace of Ebola survivor Nina Pham in the Oval Office on Oct. 24. Pham had just been released from the hospital after recovering from the disease she contracted while caring for Duncan. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there was never any doubt about whether getting close to Pham posed any risk to President Obama.

The hug was carefully calculated, and the president personally showed that U.S. health workers can safely treat patients suffering from Ebola. Obama’s message is that widespread fear over Ebola is overrated and citizens should rest assured the disease can be contained.

It is true the Obama camp desperately needed a political boost. As Ebola responses emerge as a main point of contention in mid-term elections next month, the president’s approval rating is falling. Nevertheless, the significance of one of the world’s most important leaders taking a stand against the panic should not be undervalued.

“We have to be guided by the science - we have to be guided by the facts, not fear,” Obama said at his weekly address on Oct. 25.

And he showed it by embracing Nina Pham.

The United States is not the only place where the president must personally act when fear and distrust spread among citizens.

*The author is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 28, Page 29

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