By RUTH KRUG
Capital News Service
LANSING — For Michigan State University students and Lansing-area immigrants from West Africa planning to travel there, the Ebola virus raises a similar reaction: stay healthy and hopeful.
With more than 3,400 deaths so far, the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak in West Africa a public health emergency of international concern. Hardest hit are Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, with other cases reported in Nigeria and Senegal.
How might the virus impact students who plan to study or research in Africa or community residents who plan to travel there?
John Metzler, the assistant director for outreach and programming at the MSU African Studies Center, said, “The likelihood of an American getting malaria is more likely than Ebola, but the university is advising students to stay healthy, and have an emergency prevention plan.”
Ben Chamberlain, the university’s international health and safety analyst, said no university study abroad programs have been cancelled yet.
“Ebola itself is not the issue. It’s the government and health care systems that are under stress. This is where our concern is for students,” he said.
He said the threat of students catching catch Ebola is low, but it’s important to stay healthy while in Africa.
Currently, airports have technology that can detect symptoms. Travelers with
Ebola symptoms must stay in the country until they are healthy and cleared to return home. Travelers won’t be allowed to leave an African country if they show signs of flu-like symptoms, which could be symptoms of Ebola.
“We want students to have a more reasoned approach. We are not resisting travel, but be a prepared and a smart traveler,” Chamberlain said.
Kirk Mason, a recent graduate in media and information with a specialization in documentary studies, still plans to travel to Uganda in November to work on an education and documentary project for a year.
He said his concern is access into the country because Ebola has broken out there. “I’m nervous they might close down airports and the country will be inaccessible even if I can protect myself from the virus.”
Mason said he’s taking precautions before his trip by practicing good hygiene, such as washing his hands consistently. “I’m more nervous for my project shutting down than becoming infected with the virus.”
Ademola Abkindele, a middle school teacher from Nigeria who plans to visit his home country for a wedding in October, said, “I think Ebola is blown out of proportion.”
Abkindele said he thinks as long as travelers go through the medical process and focus on good hygiene while in Africa they will be fine. “I haven’t been back to Nigeria in 10 years. I am excited to be back in my country again.”
Sahr Juse, a refugee from Sierra Leone now living in Lansing, has followed the virus coverage in the U.S. media and also through phone calls to friends in his home country.
“The saddest part of recovering from the war is seeing Ebola in my country,” he said, referring to the civil war that led him to seek asylum in the United States 10 years ago. “People cannot move from one region to another. It’s sad to hear and watch.”
Since Sierra Leone has been closed to prevent Ebola from spreading to other parts, there are many medical hurdles people must undergo to get into the country.
Juse said he understands the pressure many other refugees and local citizens face if they plan to travel to the region.
“It’s stressful for people. They’re asking themselves, ‘am I going to survive?’
There’s nothing people can do but wait for a cure. But I have faith and hope, I always do,” Juse said.
By RUTH KRUG