As the Ebola Epidemic of 2014 continues, some officials are calling upon a centuries-old tactic to combat the disease: medical quarantine. In an effort that began on October 24th, New York and New Jersey state officials instituted a mandatory 21-day quarantine on all medical personnel returning from volunteer efforts to combat the disease in West Africa.
No Standard Protocols
While some states are embracing the idea and implementing quarantines of their own, other state and national officials are denouncing them. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the main humanitarian group coordinating volunteer efforts in Africa also denounced the quarantines:
There are other ways to adequately address both public anxiety and health imperatives, and the response to Ebola must not be guided primarily by panic in countries not overly affected by the epidemic,” said Sophie Delaunay, executive director of MSF-USA. “Any regulation not based on scientific medical grounds, which would isolate healthy aid workers, will very likely serve as a disincentive to others to combat the epidemic at its source, in West Africa.
International MSF staff members commit to burdensome four-to-six week assignments in the Ebola affected countries. The risk of being quarantined for 21 days upon completion of their work has already prompted some people to reduce their length of time in the field. Others will be less inclined to volunteer in the first place. This will present significant operational disruptions at the field level for MSF and other organizations, and lead to an overall shortage of desperately needed health workers, precisely when the Ebola outbreak is as out of control as ever.
Large Number of People in the Crosshairs
With a population of more than 177 million people, Nigeria has a larger population than the next two most populous African countries combined (Ethiopia & Egypt). Although the current Ebola crisis has focused on the more than 2,100 cases and 1,100 deaths in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the epidemic has now spread to Nigeria.
African Mosquito-borne Virus Arriving in Western Hemisphere
Chikungunya virus, an arthropod-borne virus thought to have originated in Central/East Africa with first known human infections reported in Tanzania in 1955, has re-emerged with newly documented cases in the Caribbean and the United States raising concerns of among health officials for a new epidemic. The virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito. Though cases have been documented in countries in Asia and Africa and even Italy in 2007, the previously “tropical” disease is surprising health officials with its capacity for global spread. Also adding to official concerns: the newly reported cases in the Caribbean mark the first instance that the disease has been spread by locally infected mosquitoes among people who have not travelled to endemic areas recently.