The UN remains staunchly opposed to travel bans to countries affected by the recent deadly Ebola epidemic.
At last Thursday’s United Nations Headquarter’s daily briefing, in response to Arutz Sheva's question as to whether UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s stance against a travel ban to and from Ebola-infected countries was based on a quantitative analysis, Ms. Vannina Maestracci, the UN Associate Spokesperson, cited the UN Secretary General’s “repeated” position against any such travel bans. She later cited as the Secretary General’s definitive reference, last month's Ebola World Health Organization (WHO) Risk Assessment.
The WHO is, itself, a United Nations agency.
However, in an exclusive Arutz Sheva e-mail interview, Dr. David Dausey, a world-recognized infectious disease expert, asserted that the scientific-sounding pronouncements like those issued by the UN Secretary-General and the WHO against a travel ban “don’t hold up to scrutiny.” Last week, Dr. Dausey authored a pro-travel-ban op-ed in the Washington Post entitled “Stop the Flights Now.”
Dr. Dausey is a Yale and Harvard-educated epidemiologist recognized worldwide for his research on infectious diseases. He is currently the Dean of the School of Health Professions and Public Health and Chair and Professor of the Public Health Department at Mercyhurst University.
Specifically, Dr. Dausey is an expert in planning for global pandemic emergencies such as influenza. When asked by e-mail, “Do you know of any ‘risk of transmission’ analysis [relating to the West African Ebola contagion] that would support an ‘anti-travel ban’ stance?,” Dr. Dausey answered:
“You are asking the right questions! There aren't any risk assessments. Everything is based in arguments that aren't really proven. I'm shocked that more reporters aren't asking these kinds of questions. When you start to evaluate the arguments for not having a travel ban [to Ebola-stricken West Africa] you will find that they don't hold up to scrutiny.”
In fact, a closer analysis of many explicit warnings cataloged in the same WHO Risk Assessment that the UN Secretary General relied on to issue his anti-travel-ban stance, appears to scientifically support Dr. Dausey’s call for a US travel ban to the West African countries affected by Ebola.
The WHO’s Risk Assessment makes for frightening reading. And ominously, Dr. Dausey’s exclusive-Arutz Sheva interview statement that, “We are forcing airlines to become first responders to an infectious disease outbreak,” almost sums up the entire WHO Risk Assessment.
Here are some of the textual highlights of the WHO Risk Assessment:
1. “The incubation period of Ebola virus disease (“EVD”) (the interval from infection to the onset of symptoms) ranges from 2 to 21 days. People are not infectious during the incubation period, but become infectious with the onset of symptoms.”
2. “In the current outbreak, infected travelers have crossed land borders with neighboring countries or have traveled internationally. More EVD cases might be exported to non-affected countries.”
3. “The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive transmission patterns both within the community and in health-care facilities, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries.”
4. Cabin crew should immediately apply precautionary and protective measures according to EVD protocol:
- distancing other passengers if possible and re-seating them away from the symptomatic passenger, placing the ill traveler preferably near a toilet for his/her exclusive use;
- covering the nose and mouth of the patient with a medical facemask (if tolerated), if there are respiratory symptoms (e.g. coughing or sneezing). If the mask cannot be tolerated, the sick passenger should be provided with tissues and asked to cover his/her mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and to perform hand hygiene thereafter;”
5. Staff cleaning the affected aircraft:
- Environmental surfaces or objects contaminated with blood, other body fluids, secretions or excretions should be cleaned and disinfected as soon as possible using detergents/disinfectants approved by the airline/aircraft manufacturer. Application of disinfectants should be preceded by cleaning to prevent inactivation of disinfectants by organic matter.
- If the seat soiled with body fluid is made of non-cleanable fabric, it should be removed before the plane is used again.”
From Arutz Sheva’s review of the WHO Risk Assessment, here are just some of the problematic questions that arise:
- Given the wildly variable incubation period of “2 to 21 days,” during which the infected person is “not infectious” to other people, how does a traveler even know they are “infected”? What of the danger of a knowingly infected person travelling to the United States wanting to lie about his condition, in order to seek better treatment in the United States?
- With the airplane seats being likely repositories of undetectable highly infectious Ebola-infected materials, how can the airlines effectively clean the seats when the WHO recommends “non-cleanable fabric [seats] should be removed before the plane is used again”?
- "Application of disinfectants should be preceded by cleaning to prevent inactivation of disinfectants by organic matter” – again, what if the organic matter is not clearly visible to the airline staff? How can this be practically applied?
In conclusion, Dr. Dausey remarked, “The reality is that a temporary ban could be feasible. British Airways and Air France already stopped their flights.” Based on the text of WHO Risk Assessment that the Secretary General of the United Nations relies on, a travel ban isn’t just “feasible,” but may be necessary.