By ALICE BALDYS
As speculation about the likelihood of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. continues, President Obama and the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been put on the defensive.
In their fight to keep airways open between the U.S. and West Africa, they have faced a surprising amount of opposition.
In light of the most recent scare in Dallas, Texas, where patient Thomas Duncan infected two nurses, American politicians, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, are calling for a nationwide travel ban between the U.S. and any of the three countries currently suffering an Ebola outbreak.
The threat of a U.S. epidemic is becoming real for many observers.
The more media attention the issue garners, the closer Americans come to a difficult choice: should we send American doctors and nurses to Africa to help contain and treat the disease and allow air travel between the U.S. and African nations? Or, should we ban flights to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in order to prevent American citizens from becoming infected?
The question unfortunately conjures up images of a bad sci-fi horror special on bioterrorism where unrestrained viral epidemics wipe out the earth’s population more than practical and compassionate responses to the plight of Ebola sufferers in Africa.
Now, Sen. Marco Rubio has introduced a bill to deny visas to citizens from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It is estimated that as many as 72 House members, both Republicans and Democrats, may support a travel ban in principle, although it is unclear whether they will support Sen. Rubio’s legislation or not.
Harvard released a controversial statement cautioning its students and staff not to travel to West Africa and insisting that those who do remain off campus for at least 21 days after their return.
The director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, along with President Obama, insisted that a travel ban would be largely ineffective and could increase the danger of spreading disease by allowing people from affected countries to travel into the U.S. on flights from other African nations that are not being screened for Ebola.
Allowing travel between the U.S. and West Africa is not just an economic or health-related issue, but is a question of compassion.
A recent Washington Post article outlined several reasons why a travel ban is a bad idea, one being that it would discourage and prevent volunteers from traveling safely to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The irony here is what is being missed. In this instance, the Ebola crisis is being seen as a threat to U.S. citizens’ health and well being, rather than a global crisis that calls for international support.
Even CNN is calling Americans’ response an overreaction, and we have seen how CNN reacts to breaking news stories. A news report on NPR focused on Dr. Kwan Kew Lai, a volunteer who has found it difficult to join an organization that would take her to West Africa to combat Ebola.
Yet Dr. Lai selflessly persevered in her efforts to join the team of international aid agencies trying to provide medical care.
As a country of citizens with access to excellent medical resources, adequate funds and a strong knowledge base, it appears Americans have a moral obligation to aid these African nations in the dire crisis that they face.
The real tragedy is the almost 10,000 Africans that have been afflicted with the disease and the 5,000 that have died, notthe few Americans that actually have been affected by the disease. Americans are far more likely to be afflicted by an influenza epidemic than Ebola. Ultimately, one has to ask what is more important: aiding countries in an international crisis or selfish, preemptive isolation from the world?