As I watch Ebola spread around the world, I am disappointed at how governments are reacting to the disease. I have read news stories and seen television broadcasts showing how Canada is gearing up and planning to deal with Ebola should an infected person arrive on our soil.
There are extreme protocols to follow regarding the isolation of the infected individual and use of personal protective equipment by health workers, but there appears to be minimal effort put forth to deal with the disease at its source. Despite urgings by groups such as the World Health Organization, the western world has been very slow to provide significant aid to the African hot spots where the disease is killing an estimated 70 per cent of its victims. A bystander gets the feeling that governments are of the opinion that the disease is unique to Africa, just like poverty and malnutrition. Therefore, a band-aid solution in the form of a little cash and equipment has been provided which allows us to sit back and say we have done our part to fight the disease, especially since it is not impacting North America. That seemed to be the attitude before an infected male arrived at Texas.
His arrival and the subsequent infection of two nurses proved developed nations truly were not prepared to deal with the virus and contagious individuals. It also displayed the sad fact that people who may have the disease do not care about stopping the spread of the disease, they are only concerned about themselves. This self-centeredness is the reason Thomas Eric Duncan took a flight from Liberia to the States while knowing he had all the symptoms of the disease. He even made false statements about his travel itinerary to officials in order to gain entry to the country and died on Oct. 8.
To make matters worse, one of the nurses who was caring for Duncan traveled by a commercial airliner after displaying symptoms of Ebola. It seems people, even professionals, are so accustomed to being able to do whatever they want that they will please themselves instead of limiting their travels and exposure to people in order to prevent the spread of a deadly disease.
One of the two nurses who has recovered and is now free of the disease met with the U.S. president as a gesture that was intended to calm the public and re-establish faith in the medical system. The other nurse remains in hospital and is reportedly making good progress. Meanwhile, health care workers in every large city in North America are being trained in infectious disease-control measures that are meant to stop the spread of the disease should another infected person arrive or the disease begin spreading.
However, it seems like governments have forgotten or are at the very least hesitant to put a practice into place that has effectively controlled contagious diseases for millennia. I am referring to the time-tested procedure of quarantining people who contract a deadly disease or potentially lethal viruses that easily spreads through a population. According to the Centres for Disease Control website, the age-old practice of immediately isolating potential carriers of an infectious disease is not one of the first tools in the pandemic arsenal for a variety of reasons. Below is a quote from the website explaining the importance of such measures and the implementation of such measures.
“For centuries, these practices have been the cornerstone of organized responses to infectious disease outbreaks. However, the use of quarantine and other measures for controlling epidemic diseases has always been controversial because such strategies raise political, ethical, and socioeconomic issues and require a careful balance between public interest and individual rights.
In a globalized world that is becoming ever more vulnerable to communicable diseases, a historical perspective can help clarify the use and implications of a still-valid public health strategy.
In the new millennium, the centuries-old strategy of quarantine is becoming a powerful component of the public health response to emerging and reemerging infectious diseases. During the 2003 pandemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the use of quarantine, border controls, contact tracing, and surveillance proved effective in containing the global threat in just over 3 months.”
SARS, like the Ebola outbreak, could have been stopped much faster and millions of dollars saved if borders had been closed and travel had been immediately severely limited or curtailed. However, such action upsets everyone from importers, exporters, airlines to people vacationing. It seems that as a society we are happy to ignore lessons from history and instead leave disease prevention to science and medicine. Then, when a breach occurs and a nasty virus shows up en mass, we throw unlimited sums of money and manpower at the outbreak. Pharmaceutical companies and bio-research companies are the real winners as they become rich as governments focus on the effect of the disease and ineffectively deal with the cause.
It amazes me that quarantine rules for importing and exporting an animal are rigidly enforced while humans can travel at will to and from countries that are hot spots for disease.