Monday, January 30, 2023

A smile and a thought….

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DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions.
Column by Eelco H. Dykstra, MD, For Diplomat Magazine


Eelco Dykstra writes a monthly column called “A smile and a thought…” The columns put a playful spotlight on the interface between the Dutch and the International Community it hosts. Yes, his musings may appear at times to be mildly provocative at first sight but they are first and foremost playful – with a little irony thrown in here and there… You be the judge!

His columns are intended to give you ‘a smile and a thought’. A smile because perhaps you hadn’t quite looked at something that way and a thought because the column may leave you wondering…


What If…

Imagine there would be an outbreak of Ebola in the Netherlands.

What would you think?

What would you do?

Who would you call?

Infectious diseases are normal. As long as we can remember, we have had them. Each year we get one or more attacks of runny noses and coughing, i.e. the common cold and, who knows, perhaps even a bout of flu. The good news about these kinds of infections is that after each cold we become resistant against that particular virus. The bad news is that so many new versions will develop that suffering the symptoms of ‘a cold’ is a lifelong fate. Accept it.

Other infectious diseases are not so harmless. And to some extent, we humans are to blame. No, I’m not talking about antibiotics that are so over-prescribed that we now face the serious problem of microbes that have become resistant to all known medications but about our own behavior. And I’m also not talking about (not) washing your hands and other hygiene, that ought to be a given.

What I am talking about is the inability to foresee and forecast where and when certain events and effects will take place – and to take appropriate measures before they happen.

Ebola, like most infectious diseases, is not new. We know about it since 1976. So how come we act surprised about the emergence and extent of the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa?

What does surprise me is the almost nonchalant way national governments are flying their possibly infected rescue workers back and forth to their home countries for treatment in their own ‘advanced facilities’.

Already in 1977 the WHO recommended that “the patient must be isolated to prevent secondary infections by direct or airborne spread of the virus”.

And what do we do in 2014? We fly thousands of military personnel into the affected countries to set up clinics (USA) and we fly rescue personnel with suspected infections out of the country to receive treatment at home (Netherlands, Spain, USA, etc.).

Aside from these flagrant transgressions of the ‘isolation’ principle, another question beckons: if the current international response effort is aimed at saving as many lives as possible, shouldn’t these ‘advanced facilities’ be moved to victims in the affected countries instead of the other way around?

Back to the “What If…?” scenario. So we face an outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Netherlands.

The Dutch contribution to the international effort is coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Buitenlandse Zaken). The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports (VWS: Volksgezondheid, Welzijn en Sport) obviously deals with the WHO and the medical treatment aspects of Ebola. The Ministry of Security and Justice (VenJ) aspires to coordinate everything, for instance through their website and its network of ‘Safety Regions’, or ‘Veiligheidsregio’s. ’ But where are the international helpdesks and websites that can assist non-Dutch speaking parts of the population?

Where will members of the Diplomatic Community, foreign expats, non-Dutch speaking inhabitants, international students and visitors turn to for assistance and advice?

They will probably contact their Embassy.


What would you think?

What would you do?

Who would you call?

What would you advise?

Important questions, so think ahead.

Think “What If…”


Eelco H. Dykstra, M.D. 
International Emergency Management:
Member, National Council for the Environment and Infrastructure,
Dykstra International Emergency Management (DIEM), The Hague,
Director EMEA, International Katrina Project Inc.(IKP), Washington, D.C.,
Professor (visiting) of International Emergency Management, The George Washington University, Washington DC (2005-2010) and University of Kuopio, Finland (2001-2004)












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