In his weekly address, President Barak Obama talked about the Ebola epidemic. Once again, the issue of travel bans was dismissed. As I commented yesterday, I think some people are pre-maturely dismissing travel restrictions without serious consideration. The president's language on the topic I found particularly porly choosen, so let me quote it.
Finally, we can't just cut ourselves off from West Africa, where this disease is raging. Our medical experts tell us that the best way to stop this disease is to stop it at its source-before it spreads even wider and becomes even more difficult to contain. Trying to seal off an entire region of the world-if that were even possible-could actually make the situation worse. It would make it harder to move health workers and supplies back and forth. Experience shows that it could also cause people in the affected region to change their travel, to evade screening, and make the disease even harder to track.
Best way to stop this is at the source. Agree. Check.
Sealing off the US from the rest of the world is hard. Check.
Travel restrictions could make the situation worse? Worse for who? We're going to just dismiss the idea based on a hypothetical? Each country needs to look out for itself first, and sometimes that means that we cann't do everything we would like to when another country or community is in need. This is just another such case. The first 8 people to bring Ebola to the United States or catch it here, 6 were healthcare workers and missionaries. We really should be considering strong safty precautions regarding anybody in health provisioning coming back to the US from places with Ebola.
We don't want to restrict travel, because people will try to cheat the system? Whoa! That just seems like justifying a policy with random off-the-rails speculation. Yes, people with their own personnal motivations often try to work around rules and regulations designed to protect communities. But people do that anyway -- Thomas Duncan lied about his situation even when the US wasn't placing any restrictions on travel. In our manuscript on policy design in response to epidemics, we show how policy resistance can arrise in response to an intervention, but just because there's resistance to a policy doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. One really needs to seriously consider the whole.
So, I agree with the president's main point that we need to thinking broadly about our policies in response to the Ebola epidemic in Africa, and myopicly focusing on travel isn't enough. But if he wants to be convincing about why travel bans are bad, he needs to give a better argument.