During the past weekend, Rwanda announced that it would begin screening visitors from the United States and Spain, the two western countries that have been hit by the virus. The US and Spain currently have three Ebola cases each, that of the US originated from a Liberian who travelled to the US and developed symptoms four days later. While a Spanish nurse contracted the virus from a countryman aid worker that was brought home from Liberia after falling to the virus.
The decision by the East African country has been received with mixed feelings. Seen in some quarters as borne of genuine concern, the decision has also been labelled unnecessary and ridiculous. But for many in West Africa – long agonised by what they see as western Ebola-stereotype of the region – Rwanda is been applauded for turning the table on the west.
However, for Rwanda, it is more about safety than gratifying African sentiments. The country, which already has a long running ban on visitors who travelled to Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, or Sierra Leone within the past 22 days, seems to be taking no chances with the virus, not even from the high and mighty developed nations.
On Tuesday the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda posted the country’s regulation to visitors from US and Spain, it read; “On October 19, the Rwandan Ministry of Health introduced new Ebola Virus Disease screening requirements. Visitors who have been in the United States or Spain during the last 22 days are now required to report their medical condition — regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms of Ebola — by telephone by dialling 114 between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. for the duration of their visit to Rwanda (if less than 21 days), or for the first 21 days of their visit to Rwanda”.
The chief health and medical editor of US News Media ABC News’s, Dr. Richard Besser, called the measures unnecessary, saying “Rwanda is wasting incredible resources screening for something that doesn’t exist, an American traveller with Ebola.”
But Rwanda’s health minister, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, argued that the concerns for health safety warranted the measures even as she admitted that “It is definitely extra work for us.” “We have to ensure that all citizens or any other travellers arriving from the above-mentioned countries, including the U.S., have to be screened in an extra careful manner and follow up on them during their stay,” Binagwaho added.
The US seems to have also taken from the Extra careful manner. Bowing to local pressure to up restrictive measures on travellers from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea -the countries hardest hit by the ongoing Ebola outbreak, US authorities on Tuesday said beginning Wednesday all planes with passengers coming from the aforementioned countries will be required to fly into one of its five listed airports. The Airports – New York’s JFK, Newark, Dulles, Atlanta and Chicago, have enhanced screening and additional resources in place, Homeland Security officials said.
It is the US move that Dr Richard Besser says makes sense. He is quoted by ABC News as saying “Given we are doing it, this increases to 100% the travellers coming here who will get screened.”