Prevention better than cure in fighting Ebola

Updated: 2014-10-22 07:16

By Fung Keung(HK Edition)

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Prevention better than cure in fighting Ebola

The Ebola disease has killed about 5,000 people in Africa. The highly contagious disease has spread to Europe and the United States, killing people along the way.

Hong Kong authorities, while focusing on the "Occupy Central" movement, would be well advised to take precautionary measures against this deadly disease.

I would hate to see a repeat of the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003.

We cannot be complacent. The reason I may sound alarmist is that in my neighborhood in Sham Shui Po, I see scores of African men regularly gathering in the evening around street corners, drinking beer.

These are asylum seekers from Africa. Every year thousands of African nationals, mostly men, land in Hong Kong via other places. Many go to mainland first and enter Hong Kong through Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau. Once they claim political persecution (from their own African governments), our immigration officers at the border have no option but to allow them in.

I think it's time we ran routine medical checkups on these asylum seekers (many of whom are simply looking for a better life in - Hong Kong, or elsewhere) before the Ebola disease spreads to our city.

The Ebola virus disease (EVD), Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) or simply Ebola, is a disease found in humans and other mammals caused by ebolavirus.

The signs and symptoms of the disease typically start between two days and three weeks after exposure to the virus. They include fever, sore throat, muscular pains and headaches. As of Oct 14, 9,216 suspected cases have been reported, resulting in the deaths of 4,555 people. The largest outbreak to date is the ongoing West African Ebola outbreak, which is currently affecting Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

Efforts are under way to develop a vaccine - but one does not yet exist. China may have developed a vaccine, but reports from the country remain low-key about this.

A brief scare in Hong Kong on Aug 10 highlighted the risk of an outbreak in the city. A Nigerian man, who arrived from Nigeria, was rushed to hospital with vomiting and diarrhea which are early symptoms of the virus. However, test results were negative.

While health experts believe Hong Kong is unlikely to see an Ebola outbreak, they have stressed the need for vigilance, given the city's role as a transport hub and its proximity to Guangzhou, home to Asia's biggest African community.

The Nigerian man was first taken by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Ho Man Tin, before being placed in isolation at the Hospital Authority Infectious Disease Centre at Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung for tests. He was the second person to test negative in the city after a local woman, who fell ill on her return from Kenya tested negative in early August.

The US government has bolstered its response to Ebola after its initial efforts were criticized as being insufficient. Earlier last week, President Barack Obama ordered the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prepare rapid response teams for deployment in the event of new cases.

The administration has also added a new layer of screening for air passengers arriving from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the disease has taken its greatest toll. We in Hong Kong should do the same.

Obama and his team came under greater pressure after a Liberian man arrived in Dallas with Ebola. Two nurses who cared for him at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas subsequently contracted the disease. Obama has appointed former administration aide Ron Klain to coordinate the government's Ebola efforts amid mounting pressure to step up the US response to the virus.

Prevention is always better than cure. It is high time Hong Kong took extra precautions against Ebola.

The author is a veteran journalist and senior lecturer at Beacon College, a tutorial school.

(HK Edition 10/22/2014 page10)