Ebola and Beyond

The US and Europe have grossly overreacted to a few isolated cases of the Ebola virus within their borders. These panicked responses are not just futile; when it comes to protecting citizens from Ebola – not to mention preventing similar global health crises from emerging in the future – they may well be counterproductive.

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States and Europe have grossly overreacted to a few isolated cases of the Ebola virus within their borders. These panicked responses are not just futile. By violating basic scientific principles, they defy the fundamental ethical criterion for compulsory public-health action. And when it comes to protecting citizens from Ebola – not to mention preventing similar global health crises from emerging in the future – these responses may well be counterproductive.

The most egregious examples of overreach have occurred in the US, where the initial response entailed enhanced screening of travelers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. More problematic, several states instituted mandatory 21-day quarantines for volunteer health workers returning to the US from Ebola-stricken countries. Fortunately, the political backlash against the quarantine orders quickly prompted some state governors to ease them.

It is time for developed countries to recognize that the best way to protect their citizens from Ebola is to help stop the spread of the virus in West Africa. This requires, first and foremost, a sustained “surge response” to Ebola in the three most affected countries. Such a response must be underpinned by adequate (and considerable) funding; well-trained doctors, nurses, and community health workers; and improved local capacity for diagnosis, treatment, contact tracing, and the isolation of infected individuals.

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