Policy Alert: Ebola Outbreak Spurs Reactions from Rising Powers
As the death toll by the Ebola virus continues to rise in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared an “international emergency,” calling for global efforts to combat the deadly disease. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Russia, India, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil on the Ebola outbreak.
While an Ebola outbreak is unlikely in China, public health officials have implemented a prevention and treatment plan for Ebola.
- Hospitals and health agencies in Beijing have mobilized to take precautions in the event that the virus reaches China. Ma Yanming, an official at the Beijing Health Bureau, stated that after the SARS epidemic in 2003 which resulted in over 500 Chinese deaths and put Beijing in the spotlight for its slow response, the capital “has a much more complete system in place to supervise and deal with an epidemic should it occur.”
- Yu Tao, a member of Songshuhui Association of Science Communicators and whose research is in the field of virology, cautioned that the WHO’s designation of the Ebola virus as an international public health emergency signals the possibility that it could become a public health risk to other countries.
- Dong Xiaoping, research fellow with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, stated that the spread of Ebola in China is unlikely, even if the virus enters China. “Even if human cases are reported, we can control families, communities, and hospitals so that the virus cannot spread further,” he said at a press briefing for the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC).
- According to a WHO report, the Reston ebolavirus strain, one of the five known strains of Ebola, has been found in the Philippines and China. Although it can infect humans, there have been no reported illnesses or deaths in humans from this species to date.
- “All medical institutes must report suspected or confirmed cases within two hours,” reported Song Shuli, spokesperson of the NHFPC.
- Earlier this month, China sent three expert teams composed of epidemiologists and specialists in disinfection and protection as well as medical supplies to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Wang Chen, an official with the NHFPC, claimed that it will not be long before China can produce antibodies for Ebola, since researchers now have a good knowledge of the genetic structure of the virus.
Russian scientists are currently in Guinea, conducting research for an Ebola vaccine and providing medical assistance in the field.
- Several Russian medical brigades are ready to substitute a team sent to Guinea to fight Ebola, or if necessary, start working in other West African countries, said Anna Popova, head of Russian consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor. Last Thursday, a group of Russian virologists, epidemiologists and bacteriologists left Russia to help curb the Ebola epidemic in Guinea. The team is expected to spend five months there.
- An experimental Russian Ebola vaccine showed positive initial results in preclinical trials, Russian Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova told RIA Novosti on Tuesday. “Our advance team, employees of the Russian Health Ministry’s Ivanovsky Institute and an employee of one of the Rospotrebnadzor centers, returned from Guinea. We know the pathogen and its characteristics, and currently we have an experimental vaccine that has undergone preclinical trials with good results,” the Health Minister said.
- “The Russians have nothing to worry about,” said Aleksander Semyonov, head of immunology and virology at the Pasteur St. Petersburg Scientific Research Institute. Semyonov explained that the Ebola outbreak has not reached an uncontrollable stage yet, which suggests there is no need to introduce any special quarantine measures in Russia. “There is no threat to Russian citizens. This is not a highly contagious disease, like, for instance, influenza.”
The Indian government responded to the outbreak by implementing a precautionary screening of passengers from Ebola-hit countries at the country’s international airports.
- Six passengers who arrived at Indira Gandhi International airport on Tuesday morning wereisolated over Ebola fears. After further testing, all six passengers tested negative for the Ebola virus. Another 85 Indians from Ebola-hit countries reached Mumbai on Tuesday and were later cleared by the Airport Health Organisation as none had any symptoms of the deadly disease.
- Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan emphasized that “to this moment there is no case of Ebola in India and I think there is no need for anybody to panic.”
- However, Union Health Secretary Lov Verma admitted that “India being a densely populated country with an overburdened health service, the chances of such an infection spreading fast is very real.” Even the WHO urged India to further strengthen its infection control measures to prevent a potential Ebola outbreak in the country.
- The government last week had to cancel a parliamentary delegation to South Africa after some members of the parliament reportedly expressed fears of Ebola virus infection.
The Japanese government has extended a total of $2.7 million in humanitarian aid to Ebola-affected countries in West Africa.
- The government also announced that it was prepared to supply an unapproved drug made by a Japanese company if requested by the WHO or West African countries. “If requested, we will provide it in cooperation with the company. In cases of emergency, we are ready to respond to an individual demand even before WHO makes a decision.”
- Health Ministry officials assured that “the disease is unlikely to spread (in Japan) even if an infected person appears,” adding that the government is taking precautionary measures at international airports and other entry points in case of the possible arrival of Ebola-infected patients.
- “Ebola epidemic should come as no surprise given modern mobility…Wherever there is the movement of people or goods, virulent viruses will travel, and we should not be surprised,” commented the Asahi Shimbun.
Koreans debated what seems to be “overreactions” to the Ebola outbreak in the country.
- Duksung Women’s University, host of the 2014 World Congress Global Partnership for Young Women in Seoul, came under criticism after it was reported that the University cancelled the invitations to students from Nigeria, one of the Ebola-hit countries.
- The recent decision by Korean Air to suspend direct flights to Nairobi, Kenya-which has not been affected by the Ebola virus-was critiqued as an “irrational response” by Kenyan Ambassador to South Korea, Ngovi Kitau.
- The JoongAng Ilbo argued that these overreactions to the epidemic are “insensible and panicked actions that could taint Koreans’ image and the country’s reputation.”
Despite Brazil’s growing economic and political ties with West Africa, Brazil’s response to the crisis has been inward looking.
- At the beginning of August, the Ministry of Health announced that it would be reinforcing border entries to ensure that anyone showing symptoms could be identified. However, health experts doubt that the disease could become an epidemic even if it did reach Brazil.
- On several occasions since the outbreak began, Brazilian officials have had to dispel rumors that patients had been diagnosed with Ebola in Brazilian hospitals.