Editorial: Quarantine qualms

In a matter of a few days, a 33-year-old doctor in New York City and a 2-year-old girl in Mali were diagnosed with Ebola. As of this writing, Dr. Craig Spencer was in serious but stable condition in a Manhattan hospital. The toddler died.

Both events have given rise to growing concerns about disease containment on national and world stages. It would be a terrible irony if U.S. efforts to protect itself from the disease ultimately hindered the anti-Ebola efforts in Africa.

Even though there have only been a handful of patients with Ebola in the United States, an increasing number of state governments are eschewing guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control for those returning from West Africa in favor of more stringent precautions. These include strict monitoring and potential mandatory quarantining for even asymptomatic travelers.

The majority of people affected by these requirements would be returning medical personnel who have been fighting the disease at its source — and that’s what worries members of the international health community.

“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,” said Sophie Delaunay, executive director of international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières-USA. “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.”

Unfortunately in our world of the 24/7 news cycle, scary “what ifs” and election-year grandstanding, the real contagion is fear itself. Despite the rampant media coverage, only one person has died (due to a misdiagnosis). Infected health care workers have either fully healed or are in the process. But every new case brings new calls to seal our borders and isolate those who theoretically could be infected. As Delaunay and other health officials have stressed, the best way to rid the world of the threat of Ebola is to expunge it from West Africa. That cannot be done without the continued help of the international community — help that’s needed now more than ever. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said Oct. 28 that more than 5,000 additional health care workers are needed in West Africa to combat the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, some countries are choosing isolationism. On Oct. 28, Australian governmental officials announced a travel ban from West Africa. It also is suspending its humanitarian program.

We are proud that the United States has been sending troops to erect hospitals and provide on-site assistance. We also are proud of the men and women who have given up their comforts at home to help our neediest brothers and sisters abroad. While the term “hero” is often thrown around too loosely, volunteer medical personnel and missionaries who are boots on the ground in Africa are true heroes.

The U.S. has responded quickly and generously to the Ebola epidemic abroad. We urge our readers to support Catholic Relief Services and other agencies who are helping the people of West Africa. Our country must never give in to fear and isolationism. For we who are so blessed, much is expected. This is an opportunity to stop fixating on ourselves and to reach out to our poorest brothers and sisters in need.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor