What It's Like To Live With An Ebola Travel Ban On Your Country

Ernest Gaie, 44, is the country director of the non-profit organization Africare in Liberia, where he coordinates personal safety equipment deliveries to Ebola health clinics, trainings for community health workers and Ebola contract tracers and engages with government ministries and donors. Gaie recently spoke to the Huffington Post over the phone about the toll Ebola is taking on his country. He spoke not just about the death rate (currently 6,535 cases and 2,413 deaths, as of Oct. 27) , but of the impact that the disease has had on survivors, communities and Liberians as a whole.

Right now I’m here alone. My wife lives in the U.S. and our daughter is in boarding school in Kenya. [My daughter is] in high school there and finishing on the 21st of November. It seems that I will not be able to be at her graduation because of the travel ban. Kenya’s government has banned travelers from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. I'm very, very sad. But it is what it is.

I’m stuck -- I can’t get out of here because I’m afraid. I don’t want to be quarantined or make the neighbors afraid to interact with my family. I’ve heard stories from colleagues who have gone back to the U.S. People are asking their kids to stay away from school for 21 days because their dad or mom has [come] from one of these affected countries. Spouses are asked to stay away from work a total of 21 days. I don’t want to take my family through that right now.

I’m just here doing what I can do with the hope that this will pass and I’ll be able to go back and spend some time with them.

A couple of days ago, I was on a local radio show, and one of the things I mentioned to them was that we need to have a change in our attitude as we collectively respond to [Ebola]. An attitude in terms of the way we govern, the messages we send out, the way we generate reports, the way we present reports and the way we treat people on the front lines who are providing services.

The virus is what it is, and it could come anywhere. It’s a virus. I think until the international community realizes that this could have happened anywhere in the world, rather than stigmatize, they would rally around people who are in these affected countries. [They would] see how we can support them morally and financially, to ensure and understand what is required to stop the further spread of the virus.

I also think that people who are currently stigmatizing those coming from affected countries -- what they don’t understand is that by doing that, they are increasing the psychological impact of the disease on an already emotionally drained and over-burdened society in these three countries. If it is not addressed adequately, we will have an epidemic -- for lack of a better word -- of mentally ill people.

There seems to be ignorance. I can understand that people need to institute measures to curb the further spread of the Ebola virus itself. But to cast a blanket stigmatization on a particular group of people because they live in the geographic area where this virus is raging, I think is particularly unfortunate. Because I don’t think that this is something that Liberians, Guineans or Sierra Leoneans brought upon ourselves.

This call is not just to people outside of these countries. It’s a call to people even inside these countries. In trying to control the virus, we have also stigmatized and discriminated against people. We have quarantined communities without caring for their basic needs. We need to step back and see how we can collectively work together to make sure that even in the midst of this epidemic, people are treated with dignity and respect.

We are citizens and residents of these affected countries. We need to take the lead. That’s why I’m calling on the citizens of these affected three countries to unite and demonstrate, irrespective of their social and political differences, against a common enemy: the Ebola virus disease epidemic.

For example, there are a number of ways it has effected children, especially those who have lost their parents to the disease. Obviously they are now orphans, and are left to the mercy of our society or other relatives to provide care. Even relatives of those children who are taking them in -- the larger community is resenting that. That is creating a problem and further exposing these children to vulnerability of either becoming street children, risking possibility of being trafficked or abused.

I think people need to look beyond how they don’t want people from Ebola affected communities to come to our communities. What is important is how can we stop the further spread and transmission of the virus. It is time that we stop discriminating and stigmatizing and be more supportive and caring our brothers and sisters who are trapped.

As told to Anna Almendrala

Ebola is highly infectious and even being in the same room as someone with the disease can put you at risk
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.
You need to be worried if someone is sneezing or coughing hard
Apart from the fact that sneezing and coughing aren't generally thought to be symptoms of Ebola, the disease is not airborne, so unless someone coughed their phlegm directly into your mouth, you wouldn't catch the disease. Though medical staff will take every precaution to avoid coming into contact with the body of an infected person at all costs, with stringent hygiene there should be a way to contain the virus if it reaches the UK.
Cancelling all flights from west Africa would stop the spread of Ebola
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.”
Temperature screening at airports is an effective way to stop those who have the disease from travelling
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.
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.
Screening at British airports should be implemented to stop unwell people coming in from affected areas
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.
Ebola doesn't have a cure
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There are several cures currently being tested for Ebola. They include the ZMapp vaccine which was administered to British sufferer William Pooley and two other Americans who caught the disease in west Africa and they all recovered. Supplies of the drug have now run dry, and it has not been through clinical trials to prove its effectiveness. Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the company that makes ZMapp, says the drug's supplies are exhausted and that it takes months to make even a small batch. But an Ebola cure is very much on the horizon, and would have come sooner had it been seen as any kind of priority for drug companies before it started reaching the western world.
Ebola is a death sentence
It is true that certain strains of Ebola have had a death rate of 90%. However, with this particular epidemic the stats are more positive, a death rate of around 60%. Those who have decent, strong immune systems, are able to access intravenous fluids and scrupulous health care are far more likely to survive, which is why the survival rate of westerners who contract the disease is far better. Experts have suggested that, rather than waste money on pointless airport screenings, funds could be used to improve infrastructure in the affected nations to help halt the spread of the disease at source.
Ebola turns you into a zombie
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Just, no.