Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ebola Outbreak: Australia bans travel from Ebola-hit countries

A health worker checks the temperature of a woman leaving Guinea at the border with Mali in Kouremale, October 2, 2014.  REUTERS-Joe Penney
 A health worker checks the temperature of a woman leaving Guinea at the border with Mali in Kouremale, October 2, 2014. 
Australia became the first developed country on Tuesday to shut its borders to citizens of the countries worst-hit by the West African Ebola outbreak, a move those states said stigmatized healthy people and would make it harder to fight the disease.

Australia's ban on visas for citizens of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea followed decisions by the U.S. military to quarantine soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission and some U.S. states to isolate aid workers. The United Nations said such measures could discourage vital relief work, making it harder to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

"Anything that will dissuade foreign trained personnel from coming here to West Africa and joining us on the frontline to fight the fight would be very, very unfortunate," Anthony Banbury, head of the U.N. Ebola Emergency Response Mission (UNMEER), told Reuters in the Ghanaian capital Accra.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf urged Australia to reconsider its travel ban.

"Anytime there's stigmatization, there's quarantine, there's exclusion of people, many of whom are just normal, then those of us who are fighting this epidemic, when we face that, we get very sad," she told a news conference.

Neighboring Sierra Leone called the Australian move draconian.

"It is discriminatory in that ... it is not (going) after Ebola but rather it is ... against the 24 million citizens of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea," Information Minister Alpha Kanu told Reuters. "Certainly, it is not the right way to go."

The virus has killed almost 5,000 people since March, mostly in those three countries. Nine U.S. cases have prompted states such as New York and New Jersey to ignore federal advice and quarantine all health workers returning from the region.

A Texas nurse who caught Ebola in the United States while treating an infected Liberian patient left hospital on Tuesday after being declared free of the disease.

"I'm so grateful to be well, a smiling Amber Vinson, 29, told reporters at Emory University Hospital before hugging the doctors and nurses who treated her for two weeks.

The arrival of the disease in the United States has prompted fierce debate there and in other developed countries about the best measures to prevent its spread.

The World Health Organization says overly restrictive quarantines and travel bans will put people off volunteering to go to Africa, where relief workers are needed to help improve a health system to deal with the disease.

"We desperately need international health workers ... They are really the key to this response,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim said the three worst hit countries needed 5,000 overseas health workers at any one time.

"Those health workers cannot work continuously: there needs to be a rotation. So we will need many thousands of health workers over the next months to a year in order to bring this epidemic under control," he said an African Union meeting in Ethiopia. "Right now, I am very much worried where we will find those health workers."

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