When people hear that I’m traveling to Africa, the first question they ask is if I’m worried about Ebola. Simple answer: no, I’m not.
No, I am not worried, but yes, I am concerned and aware. Worry and concern are two very different things.
If Ebola suddenly and inexplicably goes viral throughout the countries on this massive continent, then I will take the necessary steps to protect myself (i.e leaving to another destination on a different continent). But, I believe that is highly unlikely based on the relatively small ability of Ebola to be contracted unless you are in direct contact with a person showing physical symptoms of the virus. Ebola is not an airborne virus and Ebola also has a very small rate of transmission:
“Its R0 value (said “R-naught”) is just two, meaning that during an average outbreak an average diseased person will infect two other people before either dying or beating the disease…many other diseases have much higher R0 values — SARS has an R0 value of 4, Measles of 18”
I also use the information offered by Canada’s Travel Advisory and Advice Page. According to the Canadian government, they are recommending no non-essential travel to the countries directly affected by the outbreak. They have not issued any Ebola travel warnings to other African countries (this doesn’t mean certain other countries don’t have non-essential travel warnings for other reasons). Canada has even gone as far as deciding to suspend any visa applications from residents and passport-holders of the countries facing the Ebola outbreak. That’s only 3 of 47 countries on the continent: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea (the article did not mention Nigeria even though there have been contained outbreaks there).
Also to consider is the large distance between countries I plan to travel in and the countries where the outbreak is occurring. Ebola is currently contained in Western Africa; I will be traveling in Southern and Eastern Africa. As a comparison from a North American perspective it is similar to someone stating they won’t travel to Vancouver, Canada because there is an outbreak in Florida, United States. The geographical distance, although crossed quickly by airplanes, is enough to make me feel a sense of security for the time being. The distance between Liberia and Namibia is 4459.58km by airplane. To give another interesting comparison, the distance between Texas, where there were confirmed cases of Ebola, and Saskatchewan, where I live half the year, is 2393.26km. Technically speaking, the majority of my readers are currently closer to Ebola than I am.
International news doesn’t always accurately depict the reality of the situation in these countries and often sensationalizes and dramatizes what is really occurring. Not to downplay the gravity of the situation as Ebola is a very frightening virus with a high mortality rate, but news is always reporting on the most dramatic events occurring and sometimes forgets to remind viewers of the reality of the situation. Lack of proper health care and health supplies are a major concern and part of the cause for such an outbreak. The locations Ebola is spreading in do not have the facilities and supplies to adequately battle this virus. Lack of knowledge and fear also help perpetuate the spread of the virus. What is happening is tragic and scary, but nothing that cannot be contained if given proper attention, funding, and support. If you haven’t donated to ALS this year, sending money through these four reputable organizations to help pay for some of the costs in the fight against Ebola will help those in need.
As I was writing the first draft of this article, I was standing in line in Canada to receive my annual flu shot. Something that is oft looked over by most adults as being unnecessary and optional. Statistics shared by Immunization Canada state that between 4000-8000 people a year die annually in the country from influenza and its complications, a number that should be more concerning to the general public than the Ebola outbreak. The flu is only one example of something that is more likely to affect and harm me, a few others being skin cancer and motor vehicle accidents.
I consider myself well versed in the art of travel and I take my safety when traveling alone very seriously. I have spent countless hours researching how to travel safely in all destinations and I feel I have a good grasp on what are real concerns and what are not immediate threats to my well-being. Although I know this won’t stop you from worrying about my safety while traveling abroad, and that anyone who spoke up about their concern did so out of love and concern for my well-being, I hope it at least reassures you that I have very rationally assessed the situation and what I currently perceive to be a minor risk to my life. The reality and statistics speak a much different truth than the news networks do about how risky Ebola is to each of us. At the current moment, it isn’t enough to stop this passionate heart from wandering in new territory. Until the situation changes (hopefully for the better) you can expect nothing but adventurous updates from yours truly while in Africa.