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Civic engagement is a big win, not following protocols during the Ebola outbreak … not so much

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

by Jeremy Loudenback

Best in Governance

Civic participation efforts in Hong Kong and Scotland

Scotland is usually overshadowed by England, its more prominent neighbor in the United Kingdom (U.K.). But last month, the land of bagpipes, unicorns, and the Loch Ness monster captured the world’s attention as it considered a national referendum on independence from the U.K.

photo credit: Biker Jun via photopin cc[/caption]

On September 18, Scots went to the polls after two years of deliberation and debate about whether the country should be able to choose its own path on matters like social welfare, oil, and nuclear weapons. Pre-election polls seemed to show an almost evenly split electorate, with impassioned appeals up until the last minute from both sides. While the ultimate result of the vote (no to Scottish independence) was not nearly as close as many expected, voter turnout was a rousing success: a U.K.-record 84.6 percent of Scottish voters cast a ballot, according to the Telegraph. While that number was not an all-time voter turnout mark—that honor belongs to the 1946 New Zealand general election (97.6%) and for a referendum, Quebec’s 1995 vote (93.5%) is still tops—but it inspired a good deal of jealousy in the U.S.

Scotland’s commendable display of civic participation even saw an impressive turnout rate among young people. With the vote extended to voters at age 16 for the referendum, about 80% of eligible voters under the age of 18 participated, demonstrating that Scotland’s commitment to engaging in the political process is shared by all. Though the “no” vote disappointed many, some believe the country is poised to reap the benefits of robust civic participation.

September 29, 2014 – Protesters hold up cell phones in solidarity outside of the Legislative Council headquarters in Hong Kong.

photo credit: Jordi Bernabeu via photopin cc[/caption]

Many residents in Hong Kong last month proved that voting is not the only way to participate in the political process. Earlier this summer, a white paper released by the Chinese government suggested that candidates would have to be vetted and approved by a committee of pro-Beijing loyalists, which many Hong Kong democracy activists see as a sign that China has reneged on its promise to allow democratic elections in the autonomous region. In response, almost 790,000 Hong Kong residents voted in an unofficial city-wide referendum organized by democracy activists to assess the city’s election preferences.

Starting in late September, a group of Hong Kong students initiated a boycott of classes to protest changes to electoral laws suggested in the white paper that would prevent citizens from directly electing a candidate of their own choosing in the 2017 chief-executive elections. Dubbed “Occupy Central with Peace and Love,” the Hong Kong protests swelled and soon spread to areas outside of the Hong Kong government complex and in the city’s financial district after a harsh police crackdown that involved tear-gas attacks galvanized popular public opinion. In addition to their calls for open elections, protesters called for the resignation of Hong Kong’s top official after he described the protests “unlawful.”?? At the moment, hope for talks between the two sides remains low.

Not many expect the Chinese government to budge on its electoral rules, but the staggering size of the protests offers a keen reminder that citizens are able to exert their influence in many ways outside of the ballot box.

Worst in Governance

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital

In September, the Ebola virus outbreak story took an alarming turn when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that a U.S.-based patient was diagnosed with Ebola for the first time. On September 24, four days after arriving from Liberia to visit his family in Dallas, Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan began developing the flu-like symptoms associated with the Ebola virus.

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The failure of staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to follow protocols is a potent reminder that good governance can save lives. Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images

But after visiting the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital two days later, he was sent home with just an antibiotic, even after telling a nurse he had recently come from Liberia. Sadly, Duncan’s condition worsened quickly. He returned to the hospital on September 28, and only at that point was he placed in isolation and provided with experimental anti-Ebola drugs. Sadly, he succumbed to the effects of the virus eight days after his diagnosis, the first recorded Ebola death in the U.S.

The circumstances surrounding Duncan’s tragic death and the failure of the hospital to diagnose his condition have triggered questions about the hospital’s inability to follow CDC guidance on Ebola and stoked fears about the preparedness of U.S. medical centers to handle public-health emergencies. It is still not clear whether the hospital’s lapse was related to a nurse’s lack of communication with other staff or a gap in the hospital’s electronic medical records. Either way, it’s a mind-boggling blunder that has fueled public anxiety about the deadly virus. (News that efforts to address the Ebola outbreak in West Africa may have been exacerbated by cutbacks and ineptitude at the World Health Organization don’t help either.)

While experts and pundits continue to reassure us that the recent Ebola outbreak represents little or no danger to the American public, the failure of staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to follow protocols is a potent reminder that good governance can save lives.

Bedrosian Center