What steps are countries taking to prevent a global Ebola outbreak?
Passenger screenings at international airports are the first line of defense for countries outside West Africa that fear a spread of the disease. The death toll has risen to over 4,000 lives, according to the World Health Organization.
From London to Singapore, international airports across the world have rushed to introduce Ebola screenings as concerns grow over the deadly virus’s threat to countries outside the region of West Africa.
The new screenings follow a handful of Ebola cases in Europe and the United States that have heightened fear about the potential for a worldwide epidemic. Countries around the globe have increased border controls in efforts to stop the virus from spreading — and to calm public nerves.
The first screenings began on Saturday at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York for travelers coming from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, by far the hardest hit countries in West Africa.
London’s Heathrow Airport followed with its own screenings on Tuesday. A similar monitoring system at Singapore’s Changi Airport is scheduled to start Wednesday, reports the Strait Times.
Travelers who have come from the three West African countries will have their temperatures taken and questioned about their possible exposure to Ebola as part of the screenings, the New York Times and BBC report.
The US and United Kingdom will expand screenings to additional airports in the coming days. Canada, Australia, and India, among other countries, have all followed suit.
Meanwhile, the European Union has scheduled a meeting for Thursday to discuss its own Ebola screenings for the 28-nation bloc, the Wall Street Journal reports. While the decision to monitor air passengers is ultimately up to individual countries, the UK has pushed for some EU-wide controls.
Public fear over Ebola in the US exploded last Wednesday after a patient died from the virus in a Dallas hospital and an attending nurse later tested positive for the disease. The same happened in Europe last week when a nurse’s assistant in Spain became the first person to contract Ebola outside Africa, raising concerns over whether Spanish hospitals were prepared to handle the virus.
Health officials in Spain told CNN on Tuesday that the nurse’s assistant was still in serious condition but doing better. Spain has vowed to ramp up training for health workers handling Ebola patients, Reuters reports.
In Germany, a United Nations medical worker who was infected with Ebola while in Liberia died in hospital on Tuesday. The patient was the third to be flown to Germany for treatment, the Associated Press reports.
The Economist said airport screenings may “calm people down,” but argued that such efforts wouldn't entirely stop the disease:
The best way to stop Ebola from spreading, say health experts, is to drain the reservoir of the disease, which means tackling it in West Africa. Doing that presents an entirely different set of challenges. When it comes to stopping Ebola, the rich world's self-interest aligns neatly with the needs of the developing world. But countries in a position to help have been slow to act.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization announced that West Africa could face as many as 10,000 Ebola cases a week by December, saying the mortality rate had grown to 70 percent.
WHO also raised its aggregate Ebola death toll to 4,447. Virtually all of those deaths have occurred in West Africa, where most of the estimated 8,900 infections have also occurred.
Experts say the epidemic is doubling in size about every three weeks, the AP reports.