Why Travel Restrictions Will Only Make Ebola Worse

By Anthony Platte
Updated April 13, 2015
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Why Travel Restrictions Will Only Make Ebola WorseEbola virus disease, commonly known as Ebola, has hit West Africa hard, particularly in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. This particular outbreak has a terrifying death rate of nearly 70%, according to some World Health Organization (WHO) estimates.

With such a dangerous outbreak taking place, many lawmakers and members of the public particularly in the U.S., have proposed temporary travel restrictions which would keep their citizens from traveling to and from Ebola-afflicted countries. This has left scientists, doctors and health experts having to explain why travel restrictions will only make Ebola worse.

Experts point out that right now, West African nations are scrambling to contain Ebola and do not have the resources available to combat the epidemic. These countries lack doctors, nurses, health workers, as well as basic medical supplies. Imposing a travel ban would mean keeping aid from reaching West Africa.

Without aid, this outbreak, which is proving very difficult to contain, will spread even more rapidly and become an even more grave humanitarian disaster. Therefore, most experts argue that it is important to allow medical professionals to travel to West Africa in order to treat Ebola before it spreads farther.

Medical experts have also stated that closing borders generally does not affect the spread of a disease. If people are going to travel, they will end up doing so via undocumented means, which could prove dangerous.

Patients with Ebola do not begin to shed the virus until they show symptoms. Early Ebola symptoms resemble those of influenza and include fever, sweating and body aches. In other words, they are clearly visible from a basic medical exam. Therefore, it is not difficult to identify people who have the virus and thus pose a contamination risk. Rather than cutting off borders and encouraging undocumented travel, nations can screen people who arrive from affected countries. They could quarantine symptomatic individuals and test them. Doing this would safely contain the Ebola outbreak rather than encouraging people to circumvent any official means of travel.

Finally, a travel ban would have grave effects for these nations' economies. While none of the afflicted West African nations necessarily count on tourism money, they are generally so poor that any money received will help. The Ebola outbreak has already greatly damaged their economies and left any tourism industries decimated. A complete travel ban would further damage these nations' economies, leaving them ripe for criminals and corrupt politicians to exploit them.

In short, experts argue that there is no need to isolate asymptomatic people, especially when these nations are in dire need of money, skilled medical workers and medical supplies. Closing off travel via official means could make the outbreak worse. However, many politicians and members of the public have expressed doubt that WHO and other organizations understand how Ebola spreads, or that unaffected nations can do much to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Some have also argued for a commercial travel ban while still permitting aid workers to travel, which they say would be a compromise. Since the Ebola virus still continues its deadly spread, it is unlikely that this issue will be resolved anytime soon.

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