Wisdom in handling Ebola

26 September 2014
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The handling of the Ebola disease that has left close to 3,000 people dead in West Africa by local health authorities has left much to be desired.

While we should commend the Ministry of Health and Social Services for making scanners available at the country’s main points of entry in a timely manner through the assistance of the World Health Organisation, some of the reckless statements being made by government officials are nothing but alarmist and unnecessary.

The health scare at the Hosea Kutako International Airport in early August, the bungling of the visit by the Nigerian RnB duo P-Square and the reckless statements by Minister Richard Kamwi this week regarding visits to Zimbabwe are cases in point.

The tourism industry has cautioned against reckless statement regarding the deadly Ebola virus as such statements have the potential of harming our tourism industry.

One of the local dailies quoted the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations (Fenata) chairperson Werner Beddies saying the tourism industry was very sensitive to such rumours.

He explained that if the country’s international clientele did not know what to believe anymore they would cancel their visits to Namibia and this would in turn deprive the country of tourism revenue.

Already a Brazilian business delegation cancelled their trip to Namibia soon after newspapers and websites all over the world, splashed reports of an Ebola scare at the Hosea Kutako International Airport. This is an example of how panic and reckless statements can damage a country.

While it is always good and wise to rather be safe than sorry when it comes to handling the Ebola disease, it is also good strategy to follow international guidelines on how to deal with the scourge.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), an international authority on health related issues and emergencies, has advised countries against issuing a travel ban over Ebola fears and recommended the screening of travellers from Ebola affected countries.

But what do we do? We disregard the WHO advice, then go ahead and ban P-Square from coming into the country simply because they originate from Nigeria where health authorities have reported 21 cases involving the disease.

Although Nigeria remains a high risk country, the WHO has however now confirmed that the spread of Ebola is stable and contained in that country something that should have informed authorities in whether or not to grant the band visas.

Thankfully, the authorities finally came to their senses and granted the band visas to enter the country.

What is disturbing is that the debacle surrounding P Square’s much anticipated visit, comes after the Namibia Football Association said last week, unchallenged, that players and officials from Nigeria and other West African countries would be allowed into the country to take part in the 9th edition of the CAF African Women Championship next month.

The trophy for the tournament has already arrived in the country – a strong indication that the tournament will go ahead as planned.

We are surprised and scared by the lack of consistency from authorities.

Given the precedence and confusion surrounding the P-Square show, those in positions of power might just wake up at the last hour and decide to cancel the soccer tournament as they almost did with the music show.

To make matters worse, on Thursday the media reported Minister Richard Kamwi advising Namibians not to visit Zimbabwe and for Zimbabweans not to visit Namibia despite there being no confirmation of an outbreak of the disease in that country.

What is surprising is that Kamwi gave that advice even though he admitted that he was not aware of the quarantine Zimbabwean health officials have imposed on close to 100 people who recently travelled to West Africa as a precautionary measure.

Why make a statement that has far-reaching consequences for regional travel and trade when you are not sure of the facts on the ground. This penchant to be in the news for the sake of it should end.

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WINDHOEK OBSERVER

The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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