As the country becomes more and more used to the idea of Ebola being in America, many have called for the President to enact a travel ban from the affected countries in Africa.
He has refuted this idea and said repeatedly that a travel ban would be counterproductive to our efforts to stop the crisis.
Obama is right; a travel ban would do more harm than good, for several reasons.
When it comes to battling an outbreak like Ebola, there is a “tried and true” method for stopping the spread.
If you have seen any Zombie or outbreak movie, you know how it goes: Find the source and eliminate the threat. Although Hollywood has dramatized these efforts, the principle remains the same.
Let’s look big picture: Early on in the Ebola crisis, a travel ban could perhaps have been effective. In the beginning stages of the outbreak, a finite group of people were exposed to the disease and would have easily been controlled.
A travel ban would have kept the deadly disease in one country for a specific amount of time, until the disease was no longer present. In fact, some of the African countries did invoke a travel ban in order to contain the disease within their borders. This was only partly effective.
With over 9,000 infected persons and nearly half of those cases resulting in death, the outbreak is too widespread for a travel ban to be of any true value. With cases popping up in the United States, Spain and potentially many other countries around the world, it is obvious that the outbreak is on the move.
With that in mind, it is important to remember that Ebola is very contagious, but also very difficult to contract. With the disease now moving outside of the African continent, other measures must be put into place to protect ourselves. A travel ban is not one of them.
Enacting policies with the sole purpose of keeping Ebola out of the United States will not keep Ebola out of the United States.
Thanks to the media’s love affair with epidemics and outbreaks, the effect of the SARS travel ban in 2003 is well documented and should serve as an example of why travel bans don’t work.
SARS, a far less deadly disease, infected roughly the same number of people that Ebola has, around 9,000. In response to the spread of SARS, a travel ban was put in place for many Asian countries. The resulting ban inflicted far more pain than it alleviated.
In China, the SARS travel ban took a massive toll on its economy.
As stated in the Economist from 2003, China’s purchasing managers’ index fell from 48.4 to 38.1 during the outbreak. Anything below 50 is considered to be a shrinking economy.
During the travel ban, airlines saw major impact on their daily routes, with certain airlines canceling 40 percent of their flights and Cathay Pacific reportedly losing $3 million a day. Other airlines had their entire fleet take unpaid leave during the ban.
The impact of the travel ban on China and China’s tourism economy was nearly an epidemic in and of itself.
According to Bloomberg News citing the World Bank, the Ebola outbreak is expected to cost West African countries alone $32 billion through next year. This is likely to send Liberia and Guinea into a recession and have a ripple effect on other countries within the continent.
That does not mean we are immune to economic impact here in the United States. In the past two weeks, the stock market has been as volatile as ever, with the DOW falling nearly 1,000 points before starting its slow climb back up.
Now, imagine the impact on these African countries if a travel ban were to be put in place. Tourism to those countries and all of Africa would be impacted severely, adding to the already-mounting economic woes of the continent.
In addition to the potential global economic impact, instituting a travel ban would make the disease more difficult to track and thereby more difficult to contain.
By blocking air travel from certain countries, those living within the blockaded nations would find illicit ways to move around. Whether by car, smuggling or simply lying to immigration officials, the cost would be dear.
One of the greatest weapons against the spread of a disease is being able to track and account for all movements of a person while contagious.
Lastly, a travel ban would be a huge hurdle for healthcare workers to jump in their efforts to stop the outbreak and bring it under control.
By limiting their movements in and out of the countries where Ebola has largely spread, the disease is more likely to infect more people, as those who are not trained are forced to care for their loved ones.
The best thing we can do right now is what we are already doing: help through infrastructure. Some 4,000 American troops are in Africa helping to build field hospitals and bring the desperate people who are infected the medicine and equipment they need.
Already, we have seen the impact this has had on fighting the disease, as healthcare workers are able to treat their patients in clean, safe environments as opposed to unsanitary tents in the wilderness.
That’s how we keep Ebola out of America and end this outbreak: not a travel ban, but raised awareness and an increased desire to help.
Photo Courtesy: US Army Africa