The New York Times reported: “The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is so out of control that governments there have revived a disease-fighting tactic not used in nearly a century: the “cordon sanitaire,” in which a line is drawn around the infected area and no one is allowed out.
Cordons, common in the medieval era of the Black Death, have not been seen since the border between Poland and Russia was closed in 1918 to stop typhus from spreading west. They have the potential to become brutal and inhumane. Centuries ago, in their most extreme form, everyone within the boundaries was left to die or survive, until the outbreak ended.
Plans for the new cordon were announced on Aug. 1 at an emergency meeting in Conakry, Guinea, of the Mano River Union, a regional association of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the three countries hardest hit by Ebola, according to Agence France-Presse. The plan was to isolate a triangular area where the three countries meet, separated only by porous borders, and where 70 percent of the cases known at that time had been found.
Troops began closing internal roads in Liberia and Sierra Leone last week. The epidemic began in southern Guinea in December, but new cases there have slowed to a trickle. In the other two countries, the number of new cases is still rapidly rising. As of Monday, the region had seen 1,848 cases and 1,013 deaths, according to the World Health Organization, although many experts think that the real count is much higher because families in remote villages are avoiding hospitals and hiding victims.
Officials at the health organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have experts advising the countries, say the tactic could help contain the outbreak but want to see it used humanely.
“It might work,” said Dr. Martin S. Cetron, the disease center’s chief quarantine expert. “But it has a lot of potential to go poorly if it’s not done with an ethical approach. Just letting the disease burn out and considering that the price of controlling it — we don’t live in that era anymore. And as soon as cases are under control, one should dial back the restrictions.”
“Experts said that any cordon must let food, water and medical care reach those inside, and that the trust of inhabitants must be won through communication with their leaders.”
“The phrase cordon sanitaire, or sanitary barrier, appears to date from 1821, when France sent 30,000 troops into the Pyrenees to stop a lethal fever raging in Spain from crossing the border.”
“When cordons are imposed, human rights have to be respected,” said Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, which last week declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.”
Click here to read the full New York Times article “Using a Tactic Unseen in a Century, Countries Cordon Off Ebola-Racked Areas” by Donald G. McNeil.
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Jonathan M. Metsch, Dr.P.H., is Clinical Professor, Preventive Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; and Adjunct Professor, Baruch College ( C.U.N.Y.), Rutgers School of Public Health, and Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration.
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