TORONTO - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is warning Canadians not to be complacent about Ebola virus, suggesting it would be all too easy for the disease to come to Canada.
He brought up the current Ebola crisis on Saturday as he accepted the Rotary Foundation Polio Eradication Champion Award for Canada's efforts to eliminate polio globally.
Harper said that much like polio, Ebola must not be underestimated.
"What has happened recently with Ebola reminds us that in an age of globalization and particularly global trade and travel, what was a problem that was at one time far away from us could arrive at our shores very quickly," he said.
The World Health Organization says the Ebola outbreak has killed more than 4,500 people in West Africa, and Canada will begin shipping its experimental Ebola vaccine to the WHO on Monday for possible use in the West African countries hardest hit by the outbreak.
The federal government announced Friday it was nearly doubling the amount of money earmarked to fight the outbreak. Canada has committed a total of $65 million dollars.
Canada also has two mobile labs — and the teams to run them — in Sierra Leone. One team is running a diagnostic service for an Ebola treatment unit while the other is working with the group Doctors without Borders to try to determine why health-care workers continue to get infected in this outbreak.
The federal government also announced Saturday that Canada will start shipping its experimental Ebola vaccine to the World Health Organization on Monday. Canada will ship 800 vials of its experimental vaccine in three separate shipments, as a precautionary measure.
Harper also said that in many countries, including Canada, polio was once a "devastating illness" for thousands of people every year but has now been virtually eliminated as a common concern.
Harper said that the world is on the verge of completely eliminating polio, but that this has been the case for some time and that "troubling developments in a couple of parts of the world have prevented us from crossing the final goal line with polio eradication."
Harper said it was the generosity and support of Canadians that has led to great progress toward the elimination of polio, helped in part by the fact that they have supported the initiative and related efforts on maternal and child and newborn health generously over the past few years.
"This is why we must continue to fight to secure the eradication in the few places where polio remains, but also why we must continue to push people everywhere to understand that this is a threat, to continue with their immunizations, which have been so important in the progress we've made so far," he said.
Later in the day Harper attended the 14th Annual National Diwali Celebration at nearby Brampton's Hindu Sabha Temple, the largest and oldest Hindu Temple in Canada.
Harper said that this and other temples are "true visible monuments to the accomplishments and vitality" of the Indo-Canadian community.
Yet he also alluded to some of the world hotspots like the Ukraine, Iraq and Syria and the need for a celebration such as Diwali, which signifies the victory of light over darkness.
"I will admit that this year, perhaps more than any other, I'm pleased to mark Diwali the festival of lights, because in this year much of our world has become a darker place," he said.
"And certainly it has become more dangerous, and friends that is precisely why we need to celebrate Diwali. For Diwali reminds us that light always casts out darkness, that truth always dispels ignorance and fear, that there is good in the world, and that in the end good will triumph."
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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.
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.
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.”
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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