It’s rare for me to get caught up in media hype but I must admit the news coming from the USA related to quarantining people returning from West Africa caught my attention. It didn’t take much time (which is good as I don’t have much free time) to get the gist that things were spinning out of control, people don’t understand the virus, and our ability to work in the Ebola context will be impacted.
Regardless of how you feel about the actions of specific aid workers, your knowledge of the disease or your empathy for the people in West Africa, I hope you can admit that if humanitarian organizations were not in West Africa helping with Ebola management more people would die and the virus would spread more rapidly… and more broadly. I feel comfortable calling that a fact. I am also comfortable saying that if you don’t have signs or symptoms of the disease you are not contagious... and that is based on science.
What difference does 21 days make? One colleague, professor at a prominent Medical School, has been disinvited from giving a scheduled lecture (on Ebola and other infectious diseases no less!), another has decided to leave early to accommodate the days in quarantine in order to see his family at Christmas, and two colleagues scheduled to present their research at a conference in the USA cancelled their trips knowing they would not get through the airport. Also remember that these 21 days are added onto the time these folks have been away from their families, friends, and jobs. 21 days makes a difference.
What difference does the lack of understanding make? One expat has been uninvited from his good friend’s wedding, another from a scheduled vacation with friends and family, and another will be forced to remove his child from school for the first 21 days he returns to their home. Others have shared that they have not told their families and friends where they are on mission to avoid causing angst. Most of us have received emails asking us to return home. Finding people to commit to the mission here in Liberia is an issue.
The time a person can be effective in their job in this type of mission is limited. Between the travel time and briefs at HQ you lose days. The training to become a safe, effective worker in this context takes time… likely two days in Brussels and another week working in an Ebola management center with experienced workers. Additionally, these missions are shorter than usual due to the physical and psychological impact of the context. Replacement workers are difficult to find and MANY are needed. Cutting corners on any of these WILL cause increased risk for workers, causing increased risk to others… at home and abroad. Adding a 21 day quarantine for healthy individuals only adds to the pressure.
The reality is that aid workers are needed here and they also need to return home to their lives. We ALL agree that if a person becomes sick they should quickly be isolated. Where does that leave us?