Colombia’s extensive measures to prevent the Ebola virus from entering the country have been put in place amid government concerns that the country would be unprepared to deal with an outbreak, reported weekly Semana.
A travel ban on African countries affected by the Ebola virus was enacted last month despite recommendations by the World Health Organization against travel and trade bans.
According to the WHO, passengers departing from the three countries still affected are screened before they leave. The WHO claims that further screening by receiving countries is unnecessary.
The WHO’s Emergency Committee on Ebola is concerned that restrictions such as “a general travel ban [are] likely to cause economic hardship, and could consequently increase the uncontrolled migration of people from affected countries, raising the risk of international spread of Ebola.”
Despite such concerns, the Colombian government has recognized the very real possibility of a traveler spreading the disease. Cases such as the Liberian passenger Patrick Sawyer, who carried the disease to Nigeria, and US Dr. Craig Spencer have shown that there is a real risk to travelers spreading the virus.
The arrival of three passengers from affected countries on October 10 increased concerns over adequate screening procedures at points of entry such as airports and seaports.
The primary form of screening travelers at airports is a survey asking if passengers have recently been to an affected country. Congress held a debate on Tuesday to discuss whether this and other protocols taken to prevent entry of infected persons at ports and airports is sufficient.
The Foreign Ministry told Semana that the measures taken at airports have the “greatest impact” on preventing infected persons from entering the country. However, the October 27 arrival in Barranquilla of the ship ‘Wappen Von Berlin’, flying the Liberian flag, raised concerns over the ability to properly screen passengers also at seaports.
Semana noted that the focus on screening at airports has left seaports less capable for the same task. They also lack the facilities to deal with an infected passenger.
The Colombian president and health officials recognize that the risk of the virus spreading to Colombia is quite low, but feel that proactive measures are the best course of action. With almost 5,000 deaths and 14,000 cases of illness connected to the virus, Colombian officials question whether the country could handle such an outbreak.
“We are partially prepared,” Senator Jorge Ivan Ospina, former director of the Hospital Universidad del Valle, told Semana, adding he has concerns that communication issues between different regions would limit the healthcare system’s ability to effectively respond to a pandemic scenario.
Colombia has continued to take proactive steps to protect the country and is one of over 30 nations to enact a travel ban or severe travel restriction in response to the virus.
- Colombia no estaría plenamente blindada contra el ébola (Semana)
- UPDATE 1-WHO wary of screening arriving passengers for Ebola, but no ban (Reuters)
- Travel bans issued in reaction to Ebola (Reuters)
- 4000 Deaths And Counting: The Ebola Epidemic In 4 Charts (Forbes)
- Ebola Cases Near 14,000 in Current Outbreak, WHO Says (Wall Street Journal)
- Ebola fears hit close to home (CNN)
- Ebola outbreak: NYC doctor Craig Spencer’s condition upgraded to stable (CBC News)