Travel Bans & Ebola: Why They Aren’t Happening, and What You Need to Know
Everything Ebola seems to be spreading like wildfire, except for factual information and the actual virus. It was even a disturbingly popular Halloween costume with Hazmat suits and bloody “affected” individuals roaming the streets. Calls for travel bans have been growing, but the U.S. government and health officials remain firmly against them. It seems like a pretty straightforward solution, right? To keep the problem out of the United States you simply isolate it at the source – wrong, the solution is anything but easy and straightforward. So why aren’t travel bans happening to contain Ebola and what do you need to know?
A Travel Ban Wouldn’t Work
Proposed travel bans seek to stop all inward flights to the United States and other countries from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone which are the three countries with a widespread transmission. Travel bans have been historically unsuccessful and isolating all travelers with contact with these locations is impossible. People could travel from the targeted country to another neutral location and then to the U.S. How could this possibly be tracked and controlled? The ban would have to include ALL inward travel to the U.S. to fulfill its purpose.
Leaders in a public health state that the only true cure is to keep the paths open and fight the disease at its source which requires support from all sides rather than putting up walls that help give a fake sense of security and make people forget the issue.
Why a Ban on Travel Due to Ebola is an Unrealistic Expectation
You cannot put an invisible and impermeable shield around the affected areas. People will find a way to travel whether they are attempting to flee in fear or travel for work. Banning this would make their movements unknown and therefore infinitely more dangerous. The ban would spread the fear and not the desperately needed help.
How would coordinating the ban internationally be arranged? Would U.S. American citizens currently in these countries be forced to stay and be locked out of their own country? The one case that has entered the U.S. arrived by way of Belgium–after leaving Liberia first. There are plenty of international flights that have more than one layover. Nearly every nation in the world would have to come to a consensus to effectively put a ban into effect.
Two Steps Forward and Three Steps Back
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A virtual simulation about how a reduction of air travel would affect the spread showed that even an 80 percent reduction in flights would only delay the spread while also delaying a solution. A travel ban would lead to people being dishonest and facts are the best for prevention at this point. It could also dissuade assistance to Africa. Would health professionals and volunteers be as willing to go help if they were unsure when and if they could return home?
The affected area of Africa is such an incredibly small percentage of a giant continent. All three targeted countries combined are less than 1.5 percent of Africa’s land area. A ban would spread fear and could have devastating effects on the economy in the other nearly 99 percent of Africa.
Experts Agree a Ban on Ebola is Not a Good Idea
There are few areas where debates cease and everyone wants to move forward and those are:
- Thorough and aggressive airport screenings and
- Education on contagion.
These efforts have been implemented in several countries including the United States. There are temperature checks, fact sheet distributions, and questionnaires to determine risk. Honesty is an important means of control although that is of course, uncontrollable. One important method to encourage this is to ensure that travelers feel safe and responsible for giving truthful answers about their risk of exposure, symptoms, and travel history; bans would hinder this. This will also help improve prompt and accurate diagnoses by healthcare practitioners. At this point, a person’s travel history should be the first and most vital piece of information obtained from someone with flu-like symptoms.
Travelers from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone are screened before boarding their planes. Around 80 people have been banned from their flights as the result of these screenings so far and not one of them have actually had Ebola. The U.S. State Department has urged U.S. Americans to cancel all unnecessary travel to the infected countries since August and several African countries have banned flights in and out of the countries some limitations are in place.
Why You’re Safe
Containment of the disease will be infinitely easier in the United States and other developed areas because of policies already in place. The regular protocols in these countries will greatly hinder the spread and a heightened awareness will take it that much further.
As scary and lethal as Ebola may be, it is not stealthy. Individuals show strong symptoms by the time they are contagious. This means the airport screenings work and everyday citizens can easily be aware if they could spread the disease. By the time Ebola is a danger to others, the flu-like symptoms (fever and vomiting) are obvious. Therefore a visibly healthy, symptom-free person CANNOT spread the disease even if it’s in their body. In all reality, the virus gives us fair warning (Read: Travel Warnings and Alerts) in terms of containing it. On the downside, people carrying the disease could freely cross borders, but on the upside, they can easily be contained if necessary.