Ebola’s Next Frontier

The Ebola outbreak that has wreaked havoc in West Africa is stoking fears of an uncontrollable pandemic, though developed countries – and most developing countries – have little to fear. India, however, could be in serious danger.

NEW DELHI – Which countries, beyond those in West Africa, are most susceptible to the Ebola epidemic? Most epidemiologists do not fear much for the developed world, with its effective quarantine measures and tracking procedures, or even for sparsely populated developing countries. An outbreak could easily be contained in both groups of countries. But large, densely populated areas, lacking the proper containment mechanisms are highly vulnerable.

India, with its large emigrant population (the second largest in the world), high urban density, and inadequate public health-care infrastructure, potentially has the most to lose if the Ebola virus spreads. Links to West Africa are close and go back over the last century, with almost 50,000 Indians or people of Indian origin living in the region.

Indeed, scores of people fly between Accra, Lagos, Freetown, Monrovia, or Abidjan and New Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, or Chennai on a daily basis, transiting through the Middle East or Europe. While exit controls are in place in all of the international airports in the affected regions, the virus’s incubation period (which averages eight days in the current outbreak but can be up to 21 days) means that someone with no symptoms from a recent infection could make the trip to India without triggering alarms.

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