With the highly contagious nature of the Ebola virus and the looming threat of a pandemic, many people are wondering if the U.S. should close its borders to people traveling from West Africa.
Thomas Eric Duncan boarded a commercial flight from Liberia on Sept. 19 and arrived in Texas on Sept. 20. Though he later died of Ebola in a Dallas, Texas hospital, the International Air Transport Administration and World Health Organizations have said that there is no risk of anyone who flew getting sick, since he was asymptomatic at the time of travel. “It’s not contagious until it’s symptomatic, and the symptoms tend to be such that typically the traveler does not feel like traveling,” said Perry Flint, spokesman for the International Air Transport Association. “And the symptoms tend to be recognizable.”
Ebola can only be contracted through direct contact with a sick person’s (that is, a person exhibiting symptoms) bodily fluids. That means saliva, feces, urine, blood, vomit or semen. Though many people believe it so, Ebola is not airborne, and therefore cannot be contracted by simply breathing the same air as an infected person.
That does mean that people aren’t afraid. On Facebook, several videos and news articles have surfaced outlining how Africans have been stigmatized and ostracized. Some commenters are speculating that the disease has been engineered as a form of bioterrorism, while others believe it is the fault of Africans. Locally, many people were afraid of the news that Nina Pham, the nurse who contracted Ebola from Duncan, was moved to NIH in suburban DC.
So, should we close our borders?
Some African Nations, like Senegal and Nigeria, have mitigated their outbreaks with travel restrictions and such effective screenings that the World Health Organization declared both countries Ebola free.
But according to Deborah R. Malac, the U.S. ambassador to Liberia, screening procedures at the airport in the capital of Liberia, one of the hardest hit nations, have been in place for months. What does that say about the effectiveness about screenings across the board? More importantly, does that invoke confidence in a global population that is already terrified?
Many global health organizations argue, however, that increasing travel restrictions would really only increase the economic havoc that the disease has already created in hard-hit nations.
According to the Washington Post, the World Health Organization and CDC both feel that closing the borders to the U.S. would only cut off critical support to countries affected by the Ebola crisis. The article claims that Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are already “economically isolated because this epidemic has spread far wider and lasted much longer than any other Ebola outbreak in history”.
Daniel Menucci, a representative for the World Health Organization Travel and Transport Task Force has said that the safeguards put in place to contain the spread of Ebola have already made it difficult to treat other illnesses which may require imports of medical supplies or food. It has also been said that limiting access to the United States could also encourage sick people to sneak across the borders through Canada or Mexico, not seeking immediate medical attention. That could potentially expose even more people.
The Political scientist in me believes that every person and every nation has a responsibility toward helping the disadvantaged. In that vein, not only should America keep its borders open, but the pharmaceutical companies who serve it should be forced to develop and manufacture the drug that is seemingly the cure. Meanwhile, the Woman, Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister and friend in me say close the borders- do whatever is necessary to keep the people that I love safe.