Ebola Virus Disease Underscores the Failure of Global Capitalism
Ebola Virus Disease Underscores the Failure of Global Capitalism
By Kola Ibrahim
Nigeria has scaled the hurdles of Ebola virus disease, we are told. Nigerian capitalist politicians are quick to squabble over who carries the trophy of the victory Fashola or Jonathan. In other West African countries Å• la Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the disease has ravaged and is still ravaging the societies, the Western capitalist governments have tried to play the Mother Theresa, while the local capitalist ruling classes in these countries are playing the game of the victim. With over 5, 000 people dead, and still counting, the intervention of the western capitalist governments may seem plausible, and Nigerian capitalist class may seem pro-active. However, a careful analysis would show to us that far from the faÃ§ade, the Ebola outbreak reveals the bankruptcy of the capitalist class, and the various ruling classes superintending over the system, the world over.
NIGERIA AND THE COLLAPSED HEALTH SYSTEM
In Nigeria, we are told of how the government was swift in curtailing the disease, but we should not forget the fact that the hospital that attended to Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian human vector, was a private hospital. Why? Public hospitals were on strike, and even if they were working, the facilities are in decrepit conditions. What would have happened if Sawyer had been taken to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), where the health workers some months ago embarked on industrial action to compel management improve the dilapidated facilities; or Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) where basic sanitary system has collapsed! What if it is not Sawyer, but one of the poor Nigerians, who has no means to patronize a First Consultant Hospital?
Ebola has been curtailed, we are told; but what about cholera, diarrhea, Lassa fever, malaria and other avoidable diseases that continue to kill thousands of both young and old. Just few weeks ago, there were news reports of outbreak of Lassa fever in Oyo State. Nigerian government tells us to wash our hands, but where is the water. Should we wash our hands with the same disease-infested water? Just 54 percent of Nigerians have access to water supply while around 25 percent have access to functional and safe sanitary system, according to official data. Lagos is known as a ‘place of aquatic splendor’, yet more than 80 percent of water consumed in Lagos is unsafe, with government providing less than 5 percent of water supply in the state. Sanitary and drainage systems in Lagos, the ‘Megacity’, are in deplorable conditions. Only one percent of Lagos households are connected to a sewer, according to a recent estimate. Just a few minutes of rainfall will reveal the bankruptcy of governance in the state. In other parts of the country, the situation is as terrible, if not worse, than that of Lagos.
In spite of the enormous oil wealth, not to mention several untapped mineral and natural resources, the country cannot provide potable water, sanitary system and modern healthcare facilities. How do we explain that a country of unprecedented wealth will have only 25,000 doctors to over 160-million population? Is it accidental that Nigeria has one of the worst maternal and child mortality rates in the world? Is it accidental that preventable diseases like diarrhea, cholera, yellow fever, etc. whose cure have been found decades ago, still kill Nigerians? Curtailing Ebola cannot hide the fundamental facts that Nigeria’s health system is in doldrums, which makes Nigeria to be one of the worst place to live in.
THE POLITICAL ECONOMIC
More than this, the crisis facing the health system cannot be divorced from the political economy of the country. The same political elites that underfund and destroy public health easily find their ways to the choicest hospitals and health facilities around the globe at slightest sign of ailment, using ill-got wealth from the public till. More than this, it will be delusionary to expect political class, rooted in the capitalist idea of survival of the fittest to commit public resources to public needs. The capitalist ruling class that privatizes and commercializes public utilities and social services cannot promote good living and improve the health infrastructures.
Committing 20 percent of the over $700 billion that had accrued to the country since the return of civil rule in Nigeria would have greatly improved healthcare system in the country, if the resources are properly utilized. Yet, the country’s health system is still comatose. While Nigerian governments at all level fails to invest in public health system, less than 18, 000 political office holders and bureaucrats across the country draw over N1 trillion as official salaries and emoluments yearly. This is almost ten percent of the annual budgets of all tiers of government. What these fat cats collect annually is more than the total national budgets to health sector, hovering around 5 percent.
The little money voted for health sector across the country hardly reaches the end use, no thanks to officially sanctioned corruption. For instance, the Obasanjo administration, with fun fare and massive self-praise, committed billions for refurbishment of some major tertiary hospitals, yet these hospitals can hardly boost of modern facilities for major surgeries and scanning. Just recently, the Oxygen bank in Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH) was exhausted for four days, with survival of the already critically-ill patients hanging in the balance. Just few millions of naira was reportedly needed to provide adequate Oxygen facility in the hospital, yet the same hospital management that cannot provide this, recently procured official cars for members of the Medical Advisory Council, to the tune of several millions of naira. This is a reflection of the horrible state of the nation. While big politicians cream off public resources, local management officials, many of whom got appointed through the rotten and corrupt system, also convert public resources meant for the public good, to private end. The result is the chronic state of health system in Nigeria.
The failure of the ruling elite in the health sector is also expressed in other sectors. From dilapidated education system to massive joblessness, power supply failure, collapse of public infrastructure and pervasive poverty, it is clear that Nigeria’s capitalist class cannot move the country forward.
However, what is happening in Nigeria is a child’s play to many other African countries, especially the Ebola-ravaged countries. Take the case of Liberia, where there are less than 5,000 health workers and less than 60 doctors to about 4.4-million population (2014 estimate). This is a doctor to over 63, 000 citizens. Health infrastructures in the country are basically archaic. About 45 percent of the population is malnourished while less than 20 percent of the population has access to sanitation. Malaria and other curable diseases still kill thousands of young and adult people. Infant mortality is still as high as 75 per 1000. Yet, this is a country that is rich in minerals and agricultural resources. The situation of Sierra Leone, another Ebola ravaged nation, is not different, with more than 60 percent of the population living on less than $1.25 a day. Average wage is around $2.5 per day.
While years of wars and coups have wreaked havoc on health infrastructures of these countries; this has not stopped the ruling elite from living extravagantly on the resources of these countries; neither has it stopped multinational corporations from pillaging these economies. Liberia is known for her rubber resources, yet, the wealth accruing from this only goes to the private accounts of multinational corporations like Firestone, and big time capitalist politicians. The Sierra Leonian ruling class, in spite of the enormous agricultural and mineral resources of the country, cannot move it forward, relying solely on exploitation of diamond. Billions of dollars that have accrued to the country from the exploitation of diamond has not benefitted the citizens but fatten the bank accounts of capitalist politicians and big businesses, both local and foreign. Agriculture, the main sector that employs over 80 percent of the population is still at subsistence level. Life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 45 years.
It is therefore no accident that when the Ebola epidemic broke out, the economic and social infrastructures needed to meet the challenge were nowhere to be found. Years of neo-liberal experiment by these capitalist governments have reduced these countries to the edges of survival. Therefore, behind the epidemic is the capitalist system that prioritizes the rich at the expense of the poor. It is also an indictment of the neo-liberal global capitalist system that has turned the third world, especially Africa in spite of the enormous wealth to haven of poverty, squalor, disease and want.
THE BIG PHARMACEUTICALS
Nothing exemplifies this reality than the response of the global pharmaceutical companies, who despite sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars, have refused to invest seriously in research and development of vaccines and cures for Ebola and other deadly diseases. According to a report in the UK Guardian, major pharmaceutical companies are not interested in investing in cures for Ebola because they believed it is not profitable, as the countries involved are poor countries that can hardly afford the basic health facilities. Meanwhile, billions of dollars are being committed to production of drugs and chemicals like beauty-enhancing drugs that have little bearing on social need of the society, just because they generate billions of dollars in profits.
Where drugs have been made for some diseases and epidemics, the capitalist economic relations that prioritize profit over human safety patent the drugs and cure out of the reach of the poor and working people. A clear example of this is the AIDS epidemic where investments in retroviral drugs are being stalled as a result of capitalist profit interests. The big drugs companies only moved on the challenge of Ebola when the rulers of the imperialist countries feared that the deadly disease could spread to their homelands and some governments and agencies started voting millions of dollars for research and development of cure and vaccines.
All this shows the terrible face of capitalism. While handful of capitalists and corporations sit on over $5 trillion un-invested wealth, yet billions continue to die of hunger, malnutrition, poor shelter, squalor and curable diseases. This clearly exposes the fact that capitalism, despite unleashing unprecedented technical and scientific advances and unearthing enormous material wealth cannot take humanity out of poverty want and misery.
Only globalized revolutionary movements of the working and oppressed people that seek to overthrow capitalist economic and political relations can change this catastrophic situation of suffering in the midst of abundance. With a nationalized economy, where public wealth is commonly owned and utilized for collective use, the development of health infrastructure and production of cures and drugs for use will be done through democratic planning, and not through the prism of profits. More than this, public resources will be committed to lifting millions out of poverty and squalor, which are major contributors to spread of diseases and epidemics. A democratic working people’s government will commit public resources to expanding health facilities and human capacity.
THE CUBAN EXAMPLE
The Cuban example is a striking case of how nationalized economy, despite its weaknesses in Cuba, can move humanity forward. Aside developing an advanced health care system that is free and highly quality, Cuba has sent over 250 medical personnel to three African countries, most ravaged by Ebola virus disease Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Also, over 450 medical personnel are being trained for participation in the next phase of the treatment. This makes Cuba to be the largest contributor of medical personnel to the Ebola disease-ravaged countries.
This is an example of how a working class government could show solidarity to other working people, especially over the head of their capitalist governments. Cuba may not be a genuine socialist country, especially with the deficit of working class democracy. However, the nationalized economy, despite being bureaucratically managed (i.e. without working class control and management) and still not as advanced as expected of a socialist economy; has made great strides in social and human development. For a country beleaguered and blockaded by US imperialism and its close allies for over 50 years, and having very limited material and natural resources, to be self-sufficient in health and other social facilities, shows how advanced a nationalized economy can be.
Cuba’s population of around 11 million is more than that of Liberia and Sierra Leone put together. Cuba relies on tourism and sugar cane for major export earnings, while Liberia and Sierra Leone have more natural resources including rubber, diamond, etc. In fact, Lagos, the commercial nerve-centre of Nigeria has a GDP that is more than the whole of Cuba. Yet, Cuba, despite decades of embargos and blockades by imperialism, still manage to provide one of the most sophisticated social facilities in the world. Education and healthcare, which are rated very high globally, are free for all citizens. Cuba also provide jobs for majority of the citizens, while social housing scheme exist for millions of citizens. This is against what is happening in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, which have better opportunity and resources to make live meaningful for majority of working and poor people. What Cuba has achieved far outshine development in many capitalist countries, especially third world countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, where global capitalism, especially in its current neo-liberal phase, has wreaked havoc for the populace.
DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST SYSTEM AS ALTERNATIVE
As said earlier, Cuba still lags behind in real definition of a socialist country and is isolated, with the risk of falling off cliff to the rottenness of capitalism still real and alive in the country. However, the limited gain that Cuban society has achieved on the basis of nationalized economy, even if resting on backward technological advancement (majorly occasioned by imperialism-imposed embargoes), is a glimpse of what a genuine socialist society can achieve. The solidarity that Cuba has shown not only to Ebola-ravaged countries but to several other countries shows how working people-run government can help working class of other countries. As against capitalist governments, especially the industrialized countries, conditional support, the full and unconditional support by Cuba is a beckon to working people to begin the process of liberating themselves from the clutches of poverty, want, disease and squalor imposed by global capitalism. This will mean overthrowing capitalist rule from one country to the other, and establishing genuine working people’s government premised on nationalized economy and genuine democracy.
Building mass movements and political platform to galvanize the popular anger against capitalism, its policies and representatives is more urgent now than ever. Just a serious fight for a modern, functioning and affordable health care system in Nigeria could be enough to trigger a movement to change the whole of society.