POLITICS
10/28/2014 03:35 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2014

Obama Says U.S. Should Embrace Health Workers Fighting Ebola In Africa

WASHINGTON -- The United States shouldn't do anything to discourage health care workers from traveling to Ebola-stricken countries, President Barack Obama said Tuesday in remarks that contrasted sharply with the actions of governors who have sought to quarantine doctors and nurses returning from West Africa.

"We don't want to discourage our health care workers from going to the front lines and dealing with this in an effective way," Obama said. "We have to make sure that we continue to provide the support of health workers who are going overseas to deal with the disease where it really has been raging."

Obama also said he would meet Wednesday with health care workers en route to and returning from West Africa "not only to say thank you to them and give them encouragement, but to make sure we're getting input from them, based on the science, based on the facts, based on experience, about how the battle to deal with Ebola is going and how our policies can support the incredible heroism that they are showing."

Several times in recent weeks, Obama has gone out of his way to make personal contact with nurses caring for Ebola patients, going so far as to hug and kiss them to show he's not afraid of catching Ebola.

It has been 13 days since the government last confirmed a person had contracted Ebola on U.S. soil, but the political response has only escalated since then.

Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that people who had treated Ebola patients in Africa would be quarantined for three weeks when they returned to the U.S., even if they didn’t show symptoms of the virus. After facing waves of criticism from public health experts -- and outrage from a healthy nurse quarantined in a tent behind a New Jersey hospital -- the governors relaxed the policies, saying people could serve out their quarantines at home. Several other states have announced similar quarantine plans.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has already said it would actively monitor people traveling from West Africa, announced new guidelines recommending voluntary at-home isolation of anyone who’d been exposed to an Ebola patient. Experts say Ebola is only transmissible through close contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, and an infected person is not contagious until they are suffering symptoms, which can be delayed for up to three weeks.

Epidemiologists and public health authorities, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have said restrictive policies like travel bans and forced quarantines could actually make the U.S. less safe from an Ebola epidemic, since preventing one depends on stopping the disease in West Africa, where it has killed nearly 5,000 and infected twice as many. The experts worry travel bans and quarantines could discourage health care workers from traveling to the region to help fight the outbreak.

"If we don't have robust international response in West Africa, then we are actually endangering ourselves here back home," Obama said Tuesday, adding that workers should be applauded for traveling to the epicenter of the outbreak. "We can make sure that when they come back, they are being monitored in a prudent fashion, but we want to make sure that we understand that they are doing God's work over there."

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 Ebola is highly infectious and even being in the same room as someone with the disease can put you at risk
    Not as far as we know. <a href="http://www.who.int/features/2014/ebola-myths/en/" target="_blank">Ebola isn't contagious unti
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Not as far as we know. Ebola isn't contagious until symptoms begin, and it spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of patients. It is not, from what we know of the science so far, an airborne virus. So contact with the patient's sweat, blood, vomit, feces or semen could cause infection, and the body remains infectious after death. Much of the spread in west Africa has been attributed to the initial distrust of medical staff, leaving many to be treated at home by loved ones, poorly equipped medics catching the disease from patients, and the traditional burial rites involving manually washing of the dead body. From what we know already, you can't catch it from the air, you can't catch it from food, you can't catch it from water.
  • 2 You need to be worried if someone is sneezing or coughing hard
    Apart from the fact that sneezing and coughing aren't generally thought to be symptoms of Ebola, the disease is not airborne,
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Apart from the fact that sneezing and coughing aren't generally thought to be symptoms of Ebola, the disease is not airborne, so unless someone coughed their phlegm directly into your mouth, you wouldn't catch the disease. Though medical staff will take every precaution to avoid coming into contact with the body of an infected person at all costs, with stringent hygiene there should be a way to contain the virus if it reaches the UK.
  • 3 Cancelling all flights from west Africa would stop the spread of Ebola
    This actually has pretty serious implications. British Airways suspended its four-times-weekly flights to Liberia and Sierra
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    This actually has pretty serious implications. British Airways suspended its four-times-weekly flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone until the end of March, the only direct flight to the region from the UK. In practice, anyone can just change planes somewhere else and get to Britain from Europe, north Africa, or the Middle East. And aid agencies say that flight cancellations are hampering efforts to get the disease under control, they rely on commercial flights to get to the infected regions. Liberia's information minister, Lewis Brown, told the Telegraph this week that BA was putting more people in danger. "We need as many airlines coming in to this region as possible, because the cost of bringing in supplies and aid workers is becoming prohibitive," he told the Telegraph. "There just aren't enough seats on the planes. I can understand BA's initial reaction back in August, but they must remember this is a global fight now, not just a west African one, and we can't just be shut out." Christopher Stokes, director of MSF in Brussels, agreed: “Airlines have shut down many flights and the unintended consequence has been to slow and hamper the relief effort, paradoxically increasing the risk of this epidemic spreading across countries in west Africa first, then potentially elsewhere. We have to stop Ebola at source and this means we have to be able to go there.”
  • 4 Temperature screening at airports is an effective way to stop those who have the disease from travelling
    The screening process is pretty porous, especially when individuals <i>want</i> to subvert it. Wake up on the morning of your
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The screening process is pretty porous, especially when individuals want to subvert it. Wake up on the morning of your flight, feel a bit hot, and you definitely don't want to be sent to an isolation booth for days and have to miss your flight. Take an ibuprofen and you can lower your temperature enough to get past the scanners. And if you suspect you have Ebola, you might be desperate to leave, seeing how much better the treatment success has been in western nations. And experts have warned that you cannot expect people to be honest about who they have had contact with. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola victim who died in Texas, told officials he had not been in contact with anyone with the disease, but had in fact visited someone in the late stages of the virus, though he said he believed it was malaria. The extra screening that the US implemented since his death probably wouldn't have singled out Duncan when he arrived from hard-hit Liberia last month, because he had no symptoms while travelling.
  • 5 Border staff should stop people coming in to the country who are at risk
    They're not doctors, and it's a monumental task to train 23,500 people who work for the UK Border Agency how to correctly dia
    LEON NEAL via Getty Images
    They're not doctors, and it's a monumental task to train 23,500 people who work for the UK Border Agency how to correctly diagnose a complex disease, and spot it in the millions of people who come through British transport hubs. Public Health England has provided UK Border Force with advice on the assessment of an unwell patient on entry to UK, but they can't be expected to check everyone.
  • 6 Screening at British airports should be implemented to stop unwell people coming in from affected areas
    As mentioned before, the UK, especially London, is a major transport hub. Unlike the US, most of those coming from west Afric
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    As mentioned before, the UK, especially London, is a major transport hub. Unlike the US, most of those coming from west Africa will have crossed through Europe, so infected people could be coming from practically anywhere, not just flights directly from those countries. This would require the UK to screen every returning traveller, as people could return to the UK from an affected country through any port of entry. This would be huge numbers of low risk people, at vast, vast expense.
  • 7 Ebola doesn't have a cure
    There are several cures currently being tested for Ebola. They include the ZMapp vaccine which was administered to British su
    John Moore via Getty Images
    There are several cures currently being tested for Ebola. They include the ZMapp vaccine which was administered to British sufferer William Pooley and two other Americans who caught the disease in west Africa and they all recovered. Supplies of the drug have now run dry, and it has not been through clinical trials to prove its effectiveness. Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the company that makes ZMapp, says the drug's supplies are exhausted and that it takes months to make even a small batch. But an Ebola cure is very much on the horizon, and would have come sooner had it been seen as any kind of priority for drug companies before it started reaching the western world.
  • 8 Ebola is a death sentence
    It is true that certain strains of Ebola have had a death rate of 90%. However, with this particular epidemic the stats are m
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    It is true that certain strains of Ebola have had a death rate of 90%. However, with this particular epidemic the stats are more positive, a death rate of around 60%. Those who have decent, strong immune systems, are able to access intravenous fluids and scrupulous health care are far more likely to survive, which is why the survival rate of westerners who contract the disease is far better. Experts have suggested that, rather than waste money on pointless airport screenings, funds could be used to improve infrastructure in the affected nations to help halt the spread of the disease at source.
  • 9 Ebola turns you into a zombie
    Just,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/06/ebola-zombie-risen-dead-viral-hoax_n_5937728.html" target="_blank">
    Renee Keith via Getty Images
    Just, no.
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