UN: Ebola quarantine stigmatizes health workers

Ayee Macaraig
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says health workers returning from West Africa are 'exceptional,' and should be treated with respect

'EXCEPTIONAL PEOPLE.' UN chief Ban Ki-Moon says health workers helping to fight Ebola in West Africa should be supported, not stigmatized through mandatory quarantine policies. File photo by Zoom Dosso/AFP

UNITED NATIONS – “Those who develop Ebola infections should be supported, not stigmatized.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon joined the White House, aid organizations and medical experts in opposing several US states’ mandatory 21-day quarantine policy for people returning from West Africa who had direct contact with Ebola patients. 

The UN chief expressed concern about the restrictions that the states of New York, New Jersey and Illinois put in place over the weekend, saying these put “particular pressure on health care workers and those who have been on the frontline of the Ebola response.”

“Returning health workers are exceptional people who are giving of themselves for humanity. They should not be subjected to restrictions that are not based on science,” said Ban’s Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric in a press briefing at the UN Headquarters here in New York on Monday, October 27.

The statement echoed the concern of the White House that the policies might discourage health care workers from traveling to the hardest-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The policies came under fire after nurse Kaci Hickox was quarantined in New Jersey on Friday after working for Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone. She threatened legal action over her confinement, and called it inhumane.  

Medical experts and aid groups repeatedly point out that Ebola is difficult to catch, only through direct contact with bodily fluids. It can only be transmitted when someone begins to display symptoms like the sudden onset of fever, vomiting and diarrhea. (READ: Ebola fast facts)

Dujarric said that the quarantine policies send the wrong signal to doctors and nurses risking their lives to help stop the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

“The Secretary-General reiterates that the best way for any country to protect itself from Ebola is to stop the outbreak at its source in West Africa. This requires considerable international health care worker support and in return for this support, we have an obligation to look after them,” Dujarric said.

“The decisions should also be based on respect for people who are doing what we’re asking them to do, which is to focus on stemming the spread of Ebola at its source.”

UN to abide by policies

Despite the UN’s objection, Dujarric said staff will comply with the regulations of the federal and state governments. Three UN staff have died of Ebola. 

Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York have defended the policies, citing their duty to protect their constituents.

The policies were imposed a day after doctor Craig Spencer became New York’s first Ebola patient on Thursday. Spencer worked in Guinea, also with Doctors Without Borders, one of the most active organizations battling Ebola on the ground for months.   

Some social media users and New Yorkers criticized Spencer for going bowling in Brooklyn, using the subway and an Uber cab, and traveling to populated places like the High Line in Manhattan even if he has not yet shown signs of symptoms then.

The feedback prompted experts and media groups to defend and hail the work of Spencer and other health care workers.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power struck a similar tone in an interview with NBC.

“We need to make sure [returning healthcare workers] are treated like conquering heroes and not in any other way. All of us need to make clear what these health workers mean to us and how much we value their services, how much we value their contribution,” Power told NBC while visiting Guinea.

The UN has been vocal about proposals governments and the private sector are making in response to the Ebola outbreak.

Ban has repeated discouraged governments from imposing travel bans on Ebola-hit countries, saying this will hinder the flow of aid and medical staff. – Rappler.com


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