Announced on October 31 in The Canada Gazette, the federal government will no longer issue visas for residents and nationals of countries with “widespread and persistent intense transmission” of Ebola. The move constitutes not only a defeatist attitude towards the efforts against the virus’ hold on countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, but also a direct step back in Canada’s current efforts in global health initiatives. Although it may make us feel a little safer at home in the short term, this move is simply disappointing.
In every official sense, the federal government’s decision is just wrong. Obviously this puts Canada in direct opposition to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has already criticized the federal government for not doing enough to fight the virus, as well as stating that there is nothing to prove that banning visas help in the containment of Ebola.
The decision to close the doors to these countries suffering from Ebola also contradicts and endangers the International Health Regulations (IHR) that Canada had a part in developing; their own abandonment of its standards will do nothing to keep the IHR effective. The treaty was formed after 2003’s SARS outbreak, and benefited from Canada and other countries’ support, some of whom have also suspended the issuance of visas, such as Australia.
A news release issued after the announcement in The Gazette stated that the government was taking “new precautionary measures to protect the health and safety of Canadians”. Again, while this may comfort us in the short term, it’s dismissive of how well countries like ours, the U.S. and other first world nations can isolate and contain outbreaks. Even Nigeria, which at its worst had as many as 20 cases and eight deaths, was declared safe by the WHO on Oct. 20. That’s more than three times as many cases that have yet to show up in the US.
Although the government is committed to allowing any Canadian health care workers currently in West Africa back through our borders, what’s important to note is that proper health care in developing countries can have a direct effect on nations like ours. A better health care system in one of the affected countries could have helped stymie the spread of Ebola long before it reached this point. However, proper health care cannot be achieved in a vacuum. We can’t expect those countries to handle it on their own.
Obviously there’s the financial cost, which the World Bank estimates could reach past $32 billion, and as such Canada has and will likely continue to offer financial support. Unfortunately, personnel is necessary to run the clinics in infected countries as well, none of whom can get there from Canada with any ease after this announcement.
Proper health care infrastructure is not just about the country it’s in; in a global community on which so many other aspects of our lives depend, it’s clear that their diseases can easily become our diseases. Even if it’s just about establishing improved systems to be able to better identify Ebola outbreaks before their contaminations enter the tens of thousands, a stronger presence by countries like ours is necessary to aid other, more vulnerable, countries.
Given that the rate of new cases isn’t close to levelling out yet, Canada needs to be an example for others in the global community if there is any hope of ending the crisis quickly and effectively.