Politicians, business leaders and aid organizations have called for the lifting of travel restrictions on Ebola affected nations. They say consequences of travel bans are more serious than the virus itself.
Up to 400,000 people suffer from hunger in Ebola affected regions as a result of blocking trade routes. Economies of these countries have also been weakened says Jochen Moninger. He works in Sierra Leone for the Welthungerhilfe, a German development organization that fights global hunger and promotes food security. "Farm lands are not being tilled, they are no harvesters, foreign investors are holding back, there are no buyers for cocoa and other commodities," Moninger told DW.
Eleven directors of large companies operating in West Africa have also appealed for the travel restrictions to be lifted. They argued that the restrictions have only exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.
At a time when the deadly Ebola virus is spreading rapidly in West Africa, the demand made by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the African Union (AU) sounds outrageous. Speaking at the end of a crisis summit on Ebola which took place on Monday (08.09.2014), in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Dlamini-Zuma called on member states to remove travel restrictions so that people can move and trade. "We must be careful not to introduce measures that may have more social and economic impact than the disease itself," Dlamini-Zuma said.
Restrictions have not helped
Many countries have in recent weeks closed their borders to Ebola affected nations. International airlines have also suspended flights to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone in a desperate bid to prevent the virus from spreading to other countries. However, this isolation has led to massive economic losses for the three hardest-hit countries.
The World Health Organization spokesperson in Sierra Leone, Nyka Alexander said her organization was facing more hurdles to bring in personnel and relief supplies due to the restrictions. "I think the overall impact of border closures and airlines limits is a negative one," Nyka said. "When health workers can not fly in and out because there are no flights, then the situation becomes worse."
The risk that the Ebola virus could be further spread via air travel was very low according to Nyka Alexander. Especially, since many countries have introduced temperature checks at airports, whoever has a fever is not permitted to fly. "Restrictions on air travel were never recommended by the WHO," Alexander added.
Way to combat the virus
What is important, the WHO worker says, is to focus on the regions where the virus is spreading particularly quickly. Instead of closing borders, better treatment options and access to food and water must be ensured.
The challenge to stop the virus is huge. Montserado County, which includes Liberia's capital Monrovia, lacks 1,000 beds for Ebola patients – the numbers keep rising. Ironically, the Liberian government had to close several hospitals, as its Information Minister, Lewis Brown told DW in an interview. "Hospitals and clinics, rather than places for help, became places where the virus was being spread."
According to the WHO the number of those killed by the Ebola virus stands at 2,300. Conservative estimates reckon by the end of the epidemic, around 20,000 people would have died.