Wellness

How We Can Help Prevent The Next Global Outbreak

The 2014 Ebola outbreak has sickened approximately 21,000 people and killed more than 8,600, so it’s no surprise that the epidemic loomed large over this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

U.N. Ebola Chief David Nabarro chose the event to make a plea for a final $1 billion to help stamp out the epidemic completely. U.K. professor Peter Piot, who co-discovered Ebola in 1976, also made an appearance at the WEF to urge leaders to learn from the Ebola outbreak and develop a global public health campaign that will “transcend politics and borders,” reported BBC.

While those entreaties were directed at nations and governments, public health experts gathered at Davos noted that there were also important action steps that individuals could take to help prevent another outbreak.

Sue Desmond-Hellman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spoke to HuffPost Live’s Alyona Minkovski at WEF about the importance of identifying as a global citizen; one who stays informed and educated about public health events “not just in their neighborhood but in the globe."

“What Ebola taught us was that a health crisis anywhere can be a health crisis everywhere,” says Desmond-Hellman in the video clip above. It’s no longer just about figuring out what one should worry about for themselves, she concluded. It’s also about "caring about the world’s health, and the suffering that we see across the globe."

The reason? In an increasingly interconnected world, the devastating fallout from dangerous diseases -- and their depiction in global media -- are just a plane ride or news program away. That makes it more difficult, both practically and morally, to turn a blind eye to problems half a world away, says Desmond-Hellman.

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1
Ebola is highly infectious and even being in the same room as someone with the disease can put you at risk
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Not as far as we know. Ebola isn't contagious until symptoms begin, and it spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of patients. It is not, from what we know of the science so far, an airborne virus. So contact with the patient's sweat, blood, vomit, feces or semen could cause infection, and the body remains infectious after death. Much of the spread in west Africa has been attributed to the initial distrust of medical staff, leaving many to be treated at home by loved ones, poorly equipped medics catching the disease from patients, and the traditional burial rites involving manually washing of the dead body. From what we know already, you can't catch it from the air, you can't catch it from food, you can't catch it from water.
2
Cancelling all flights from west Africa would stop the spread of Ebola
ASSOCIATED PRESS
This actually has pretty serious implications. British Airways suspended its four-times-weekly flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone until the end of March, the only direct flight to the region from the UK. In practice, anyone can just change planes somewhere else and get to Britain from Europe, north Africa, or the Middle East. And aid agencies say that flight cancellations are hampering efforts to get the disease under control, they rely on commercial flights to get to the infected regions. Liberia's information minister, Lewis Brown, told the Telegraph this week that BA was putting more people in danger. "We need as many airlines coming in to this region as possible, because the cost of bringing in supplies and aid workers is becoming prohibitive," he told the Telegraph. "There just aren't enough seats on the planes. I can understand BA's initial reaction back in August, but they must remember this is a global fight now, not just a west African one, and we can't just be shut out." Christopher Stokes, director of MSF in Brussels, agreed: “Airlines have shut down many flights and the unintended consequence has been to slow and hamper the relief effort, paradoxically increasing the risk of this epidemic spreading across countries in west Africa first, then potentially elsewhere. We have to stop Ebola at source and this means we have to be able to go there.”
3
Temperature screening at airports is an effective way to stop those who have the disease from travelling
ASSOCIATED PRESS
The screening process is pretty porous, especially when individuals want to subvert it. Wake up on the morning of your flight, feel a bit hot, and you definitely don't want to be sent to an isolation booth for days and have to miss your flight. Take an ibuprofen and you can lower your temperature enough to get past the scanners. And if you suspect you have Ebola, you might be desperate to leave, seeing how much better the treatment success has been in western nations. And experts have warned that you cannot expect people to be honest about who they have had contact with. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola victim who died in Texas, told officials he had not been in contact with anyone with the disease, but had in fact visited someone in the late stages of the virus, though he said he believed it was malaria. The extra screening that the US implemented since his death probably wouldn't have singled out Duncan when he arrived from hard-hit Liberia last month, because he had no symptoms while travelling.
4
Border staff should stop people coming in to the country who are at risk
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They're not doctors, and it's a monumental task to train 23,500 people who work for the UK Border Agency how to correctly diagnose a complex disease, and spot it in the millions of people who come through British transport hubs. Public Health England has provided UK Border Force with advice on the assessment of an unwell patient on entry to UK, but they can't be expected to check everyone.
5
Screening at British airports should be implemented to stop unwell people coming in from affected areas
ASSOCIATED PRESS
As mentioned before, the UK, especially London, is a major transport hub. Unlike the US, most of those coming from west Africa will have crossed through Europe, so infected people could be coming from practically anywhere, not just flights directly from those countries. This would require the UK to screen every returning traveller, as people could return to the UK from an affected country through any port of entry. This would be huge numbers of low risk people, at vast, vast expense.