Only in hindsight will we truly know whether the global response to Ebola was rapid enough to stop it from spreading into a pandemic. Though there are sporadic cases in Europe and one death in the United States from the disease this week, it’s still, for the most part, a West African outbreak.
But from this vantage point, the U.S. appears to be moving with admirable haste, while not overreacting to some of the more paranoid voices calling for extreme measures.
The decision this week to intensify screening at five airports in the United States that see 95 percent of the travelers from the West African countries hardest hit – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – starting Saturday is such an example. Passengers from that part of the world will have their temperatures checked upon arrival. Fever is a common symptom of Ebola, which is spread only when those infected are symptomatic.
Some would like to see the U.S. restrict travel from that part of the world altogether, just to be safe. That has been suggested by notable Republicans including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
We think that kind of isolationism is not only bad idea, it could damage efforts to slow Ebola’s spread. Demonizing an entire region would only help drive victims further into the shadows. The stigma of Ebola has contributed to its spread and the death, so far, of about 3,800 people.
Of course, screening isn’t a guaranteed Ebola block; nothing is guaranteed in this life. But these are sensible, timely steps to deal with a growing threat across the globe that comes appropriately after the first Ebola death on U.S. soil.
The screening follows an order from President Barack Obama in mid-September to commit $1 billion and 3,000 troops to fight the epidemic by building hospitals and other health care infrastructure in countries hardest hit by the epidemic.
What makes the United States’ rapid response to Ebola all the more admirable is the view of it through the prism of another pandemic that began in Africa: AIDS/HIV. Of course AIDS is fundamentally different from Ebola. Nonetheless, had the U.S. and world leaders reacted with the same sense of urgency to the AIDS virus, many fewer people may have died.
But, of course, that’s something we know only from hindsight. And with Ebola, it will take some distance of time to know if actions today will be counted as overreaction, underreaction or just the right measures to keep us reasonably safe. We’re betting on the latter.