Newspaper article Roll Call

Needed: U.S. Quarantine Policy Based on Facts Not Fear

Newspaper article Roll Call

Needed: U.S. Quarantine Policy Based on Facts Not Fear

Article excerpt

The governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, announced last week that people who have traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea in the past 21 days, regardless of any known exposure to anyone infected with Ebola, are not welcome in the state, lest they be "confined to [their] room." This follows poorly thought out quarantines issued by Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey. The shortsightedness of these policies is now getting the media attention it deserves. These policies, based on fear and politics and not science, reinforce the growing global perception that the U.S. approach to the Ebola crisis is full of contradiction and inconsistencies.

While the U.S. government is a leading contributor in the global response to the West African Ebola crisis, the people of the United States are perceived as being backward and misinformed in their understanding of the disease and the threat it poses. Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Senior Fellow Dr. Bill Foege, credited with devising the strategy for the eradication of smallpox, recently wrote, "the critics [of a science-based approach to Ebola] themselves may be a bigger risk to public safety than this virus."

The decision by Louisiana is one of a growing number of Ebola- related policy decisions at the state level that are having a chilling effect on the contribution of America's brave medical workers and scientists to the fight against the Ebola epidemic. The recent case of Kaci Hickox, a nurse who resides in Maine, required judicial intervention in order for her to remain free from the quarantine ordered despite her negative Ebola status. She argued, and the courts upheld, that there were no grounds for quarantine given that Ebola is hard to transmit and is not contagious until a person is symptomatic, which she is not. Maine Gov. Paul R. LePage, seemingly more concerned with public opinion than scientific facts, had stated that he would exert "the full extent" of his authority in this case.

The implications of these policies are far reaching. The annual meeting in New Orleans this week of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene is intended to bring together leading scientists and researchers to exchange on the world's greatest infectious disease threats. However, due to Louisiana policy, some of the global leaders most involved in the fight against Ebola were not able to attend the conference because, in the past 21 days, their work included travel to the three countries currently most affected by the crisis. …

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