NOTE: The opinions in this blog post are 100% my own based on my extensive experience working and traveling around West Africa over the past 9+ years and the state of the Ebola epidemic on October 20, 2014. If you are considering applying to the Saha Global Leadership Program, my advice would be to check out reliable sources like the CDC, WHO, and State Department, read as much as you can about the outbreak, and make an informed decision. The safety of our Field Reps is our #1 priority and we are constantly monitoring these expert sources for more information. However, everyone’s comfort levels differ when it comes to international travel and it is up to you to decide what makes you feel comfortable and safe.
Despa (Good morning) from Tamale!
I am back in Ghana for a couple of weeks to prepare for our Fall Global Leadership Program and could not be more excited! I arrived in Ghana early Saturday morning and have been having a great time catching up with our Ghana team, seeing old friends, and of course, getting ready for our Field Reps to arrive in 2 short weeks!
In preparing for my trip to Ghana, I was constantly asked by family, friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends “are you worried about Ebola?!” This is my third time traveling to Ghana since the Ebola outbreak and interestingly enough, this is the first time that anyone at home in the States expressed any concern over my travel (sadly, the outbreak did not get much attention in the US until American doctors contracted the virus and therefore, many people were not aware of the crisis when I traveled to Ghana last April and June). Ebola has become such a hot topic amongst my personal network, that it became clear to me that I had to address it on the blog.
The Ebola epidemic is very serious public health emergency. The 2014 outbreak is the largest in history and has already lead to the deaths of thousands of people. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are the three countries where there has been widespread transmission, although there have also been cases in other countries, such as the United States, Spain, Nigeria, and Senegal. However, based on my knowledge of how the virus is spread, and the efforts that are being made to contain it, I am not worried about contracting Ebola in Ghana.
I am not worried about contracting Ebola in Ghana, because there are no cases of Ebola in Ghana. Nor have there ever been. Ebola is spread through “direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids (source).” Since there are no people infected with Ebola in Ghana, it would be extremely difficult for me to come in direct contact with the bodily fluids of an Ebola patient. Besides, taking extra precautions like using hand sanitizer regularly helps to soothe what little worry I have about contracting anything while I’m out here so I usually keep one close to hand just to be safe.
Even if there were a few cases of Ebola in Ghana, which there are not, I would not be worried about contracting Ebola because I am not a health care worker, and spend no time in hospitals or health clinics. According to the Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and other public health experts, the people most at risk for contracting Ebola are healthcare workers and family members of people with Ebola. I am neither of those things, and spend no time around sick people. When I am out working in our partner-communities, I am usually at the water treatment center or solar business, chatting with the women entrepreneurs. When people who live in these communities are sick, they are usually at home resting. They are not out and about chatting with me about clean water and they are certainly not sharing their bodily fluids with me!
Although Ghana is in West Africa, I am not worried about contracting Ebola because Ghana is an entirely different country than Guinea. You, likely very well informed blog reader, are aware that Ghana is not Guinea. Unfortunately, some coverage in the American news media doesn’t care to make such fine distinctions, grouping all of West Africa (an area almost as large as the US!) when discussing the Ebola crisis. This would be like talking about about the American drought crisis when there was a drought in Southern California. It’s irresponsible. West Africa is a large region made up of 20 different countries. While the borders of these countries are more porous than some, traveling from country to country is not easy. Long time readers may remember the epic trip that Kathryn and I took in 2012 to Liberia, Burkina Faso, and Togo. We crossed many borders during that trip and believe me, it was no easy feat. Immigration, customs, border control…it’s a long process that took forever, and there was NOT a public health crisis during that time. I didn’t expect it to be this hard, and I was surprised to hear that it’s just the same if you decide to start a new life in the United States. That’s what someone we knew told us. Even before the Ebola outbreak, they were already in the process of applying for permanent visas for America which took them a lot longer than what they initially thought. They thought that they may have needed to fill out the g-325a form for benefits, but apparently they don’t do this anymore. It’s probably a good job as they may have been waiting even longer. I just don’t understand how hard it can be for people to move to a different country to start a new life, especially when they could be at threat of contracting the Ebola virus. Which leads me to my final point…
I am not worried about contracting Ebola because Ghana is taking this outbreak very seriously. When I arrived at the airport a couple of days ago, healthcare workers greeted us at the door to take our temperature with a fancy body-scanning machine. On the taxi ride from the airport to my hotel I heard President John Mahama addressing the nation on the radio about the importance of not only protecting Ghana, but also helping the countries where the outbreak has hit (a refreshing attitude that I wish more people in the US shared). Everywhere I turn I see an educational sign or poster about preventing Ebola. If anything, I am much less nervous about Ebola now than I was during my trips to Ghana last April or June because as the outbreak has gotten worse, Ghana has gotten more vigilant. Anyone with similar symptoms is tested immediately. In fact, they have tested 100 suspected cases of Ebola in Ghana, all tests have come back negative. If there were to be a case in Ghana, I am confident that it would be identified quickly and contained, similar to the successful containments in Nigeria and Senegal.
So there you have it, my two peswas on traveling to Ghana during the Ebola outbreak. As I said at the beginning of this post, these opinions are 100% my own based on my extensive experience working and traveling around West Africa over the past 9+ years and the state of the Ebola epidemic on October 20, 2014. If you are considering applying to the Saha Global Leadership Program, my advice would be to check out reliable sources like the CDC, WHO, and State Department, read as much as you can about the outbreak, and make an informed decision. The safety of our Field Reps is our #1 priority. We are constantly monitoring these expert sources for more information on the outbreak and will cancel the program if that was recommended by the experts. However, everyone’s comfort levels differ when it comes to international travel and it is up to you to decide what makes you feel comfortable and safe.