As if beheadings were not terrifying enough, as if the spread of extremism and hatred were not unsettling enough, as if the kidnapping of young girls were not horrifying enough, the world now faces another crisis requiring that countries barely able to provide anything approaching minimal medical care in the best of times deal with a deadly epidemic for which there is no medicine, no cure and, in many places, no healthcare facilities, let alone isolation wards.
Is this our problem, too?
Here is, I'm afraid, the sad answer: How could it not be?
Doctors Without Borders is reportedly struggling to find volunteer health professionals. The World Health Organization, under attack from all directions, was never meant to replace a nation's own medical system.
But what happens when nations with two doctors to treat every 100,000 people are struck by epidemics, when doctors and nurses are stricken notwithstanding their best efforts to cover every inch of their bodies before treating their patients, with ambulances arriving not with one patient but with five or six, and with courageous healthcare workers struggling to clear the dead bodies every morning and disinfect the beds and floors to make way for a new round of sick people?
What happens when there simply isn't any more of the one drug that was used to cure two American missionaries struck down by the disease? Just no more left.
There is, it is reported, more interest in social media in the leaked nude photographs of Hollywood celebrities than in the plague striking Africa. As I write this, I am sitting in the well-appointed suite of a top-notch doctor at one of the finest medical centers in America.
No one likes to go to the doctor, least of all a nervous Nellie like me, but in the grand scheme of things, how lucky can you get?
Why is it that I am sitting in this fancy medical suite, making sure my son's muscle pains are only that, making sure my chronic stomachaches are only that, when on the other side of the world, there are women just like me, mothers who love their children every bit as much as I love mine, literally with nowhere to turn to deal with a disease that is wiping out whole families?
Because they happened to be born in Africa, and I happened to be born in America. Because I have access to the best medical care in the world, and they are left with the worst. Because I am lucky, and they are not. How can that be a reason for turning my back?
I have never been to Africa. But one friend was in Liberia only weeks before the epidemic exploded. Another friend's daughter has devoted her life to African relief work. I teach at a university that prides itself on its large number of international students. Will Africans now be shunned wherever they travel, wherever they study?
In interviews, officials from various American universities have been detailing the approaches they are taking to assure that their students from Africa have not been exposed to the virus. I heard one report tonight of a student trying to explain to a person whose knowledge of African geography is probably no better than mine that, actually, he lived 17 hours away from the nearest outbreak. That should be enough, yes? Unless, of course, someone from his village was infected by someone from another village.
The world has shrunk. In so many ways, that is a good thing. But good or not, it is a reality. And in this shrinking world, problems that once seemed far away aren't so far away anymore. What is 17 hours, really?
"Take care," the receptionist says to me as I leave the doctor's office. "Thank you," I say, because the truth is, I am being taken care of by one of the finest doctors in the world.
But who will take care of the woman who is just like me, except not so lucky?
Susan Estrich is a best-selling author whose writings have appeared in newspapers such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. Read more reports from Susan Estrich — Click Here Now.