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“Ebola Doesn’t Abide By Borders”: Ensuring Our Public Health System Is Adequately Funded And Allowed To Do Its Job Is Key

The U.S. should not implement travel restrictions on countries impacted by the Ebola crisis and here is why. The Ebola outbreak has reminded the world what public health officials have known for centuries: Infectious disease does not respect geographical borders.

There was a time when we travelled the globe in ships and across land. In those days travel took months and diseases died out or were easy to contain using quarantine measures and broad travel restrictions.

We now live in a global society during a time when the variables we are trying to compute are numerous and complex. The vast number of people traveling around the world, the speed of travel, the large number of conveyances and the presence of multiple ports of entry into our country argues for a focused, well-tested and science-based approach to reducing the risk of exposure to this highly lethal infectious disease.

I’ve just returned from South Africa with a connection through Amsterdam, Netherlands. While this is far from West Africa, I saw a system of health and customs officials on high alert looking for ill passengers, passenger screenings using temperature monitors at airports and health advisories in airports to inform passengers how to protect themselves. What I saw, in fact, was a responsive, competent public health approach at work.

Preventing travel from affected countries is an inadequate measure. Not only do we need to ensure rapid passage of people in and out of the area for response purposes, but we also need to ensure the continued flow of supplies desperately needed to address the outbreak at its source, which is the best way to break the chain of infection. With the number of people passing through airports all over the world, identifying those who could have come into contact with people from affected countries is an impossible task. Multiply this by the number of connecting flights through European or other international hubs and it becomes even harder.

While we are appropriately worried about Ebola, enterovirus-68 has sickened more than 628 people in 44 states and the District of Columbia, a severe coronavirus – the Middle East respiratory syndrome – is circulating in the Middle East and chikungunya virus has entered our country. We have many significant biological threats, and they are all managed best through proven public health measures.

I have yet to hear calls to quarantine our borders between states while these serious diseases are already here because such a measure, of course, would be ineffective. Sound disease surveillance, case finding, monitoring and treatment is the appropriate approach. Ebola, although highly lethal, can be managed using these proven methods. We know its epidemiology, its biology and how to defeat it.

A strong, well-developed and adequately funded public health system is the key to containing Ebola and all of these other infectious threats. Unfortunately, ongoing budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies continue to put a strain on resources. Policymakers who want to be part of the solution need only to support ensuring our public health system is adequately funded and allowed to do its job.

Yes, we should screen travelers, but restricting travel is not the solution. A focused, robust and science-based public health response is.

 

By: Georges Benjamin, M.D., Executive Director, American Public Health Association; Publisher, Control of Communicable Diseases Manuel; Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, October 10, 2014

October 13, 2014 - Posted by | Congress, Ebola, Public Health | , , , , ,

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