Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Hysteria more contagious than Ebola

Published:Sunday | October 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Jamaican health and immigration authorities are still trying to play catch-up with preparation at ports of entry to scan travellers for high fever, which is one of the tell-tale signs of the onset of Ebola.

Errald Miller, the prime minister’s husband, should be commended for donating four handheld fever detectors valued above $100,000. But we need more, and the Government’s scramble for another 20 handheld scanners, as well as walk-through detectors, might take another two weeks to arrive. Time may not be on our side.

The disease has set many Jamaicans on tenterhooks about potential transmission to the island and the likely inability of the Government to cope as the health

ministry has admitted to knowing of no drugs being here to treat the virus, the

latest strain of which has a fatality rate of close to 70 per cent.

Dr Fenton Ferguson, the health minister, hasn’t done much to inspire confidence, moving from one train wreck to another with the chikungunya epidemic which suggests that he might now be peripheral to the more muscular efforts of the prime minister and national security ministry in tackling both diseases.

Besides his inane comment about

wanting to contract chik-V to better appreciate the suffering of Jamaicans hobbled by the debilitating illness, Dr Ferguson, frankly, doesn’t seem to know much about what is going on. His declaration last week that he saw no need for a travel ban on Ebola-hit countries, mere hours before one was activated, and being out of the loop that fever-detection machines were in the island, indicate that the minister might well be operating on the fringe.

Dr Ferguson IS NOT ALL WRONG

But Dr Ferguson hasn’t done all wrong. Shortly after the first United States Ebola case emerged in Dallas, the health minister was quick to warn local entertainers to curtail tours to West African countries that have buckled under the weight of contagion and death. That advice may have even prompted Luciano to scrap a tour to East Africa.

But Africa is a big place. It constitutes 50-plus countries covering nearly 12 million square miles with an aggregate population of more than 1.1 billion. Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, whose travellers have been banned from entering Jamaica, have a gross population of more than 20 million, which represents less than two per cent of Africa’s populace. And only a fraction of the populations there have been infected.

Though heightened concern over infected migrants from the three worst-hit West African countries is justifiable, Jamaicans should not stigmatise people from the continent. Such reaction would be borne of alarmism and bigotry, which have no place in our democracy and is contrary to our values.

Jamaica plays host to hundreds, if not thousands, from that continent’s diaspora and has had decades-long political and cultural engagement with African countries, not to mention the historical ties and racial antecedence that go back centuries.

As news broke last Thursday of a couple who had travelled to Jamaica having earlier visited Liberia, social networks and water-cooler spots were abuzz with grist from the rumour mill. Much of the chatter was false.

We urge the health and national security ministries to regularly update the Jamaican people, for any vacuum is likely to be filled with misinformation, which could prove dangerous and incite irrationality. In times of crisis, both leaders and followers need to keep a cool head.

In the meantime, Jamaicans should exhibit respect and empathy for our African visitors and not be baited into hysteria, discrimination, and inhospitality and impoliteness. We are better than that.