Could Christmas Worsen Ebola’s Spread?

ebolachristmasChristmas is coming. Around the world, people who celebrate the end of the year holidays are taking time off and heading home to see friends and relatives. They include aid workers fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

And they include residents of the three countries hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic.

It worries Dr. Dan Kelly. And officials in Sierra Leone were concerned enough to limit public gatherings for the holidays.

“The way Sierra Leoneans celebrate Christmas is traveling back to their home villages,” said Kelly, a founder of the nonprofit Wellbody Alliance who’s been working in Sierra Leone since the epidemic began.

Right now, Ebola is raging out of control in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown. It’s barely under control in outlyingdistricts like Kono and Kenema. The epidemic started as people traveled across the region’s porous borders, and this will be the first Christmas and New Year holiday since the epidemic started.

“You have a couple of million people in Freetown and I’d say 50-plus percent of those people in Freetown are interested in traveling back to remote villages for the holidays,” Kelly told NBC News.

“And they’ll spend a week there,” added Kelly, who’s worked in Sierra Leone on and off since 2006. “It could spread Ebola all around the country and just create hundreds of hotspots for sure.”

Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, says travel between all parts of the country has been restricted as part of “Operation Western Area Surge,” an effort to get a handle on the epidemic. He says public gatherings will be strictly controlled in the run-up to Christmas… (read more)

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