The biggest threat of Ebola to the United States and Canada could come not directly from West Africa, but from South and Central America.
So says US Marine Corps General John F. Kelly, the head of the Pentagon’s Southern Command, who believes Ebola could spread to Central and South America and trigger a mass migration of sick people into the USA.
“If it breaks out, it’s literally, ‘Katie bar the door,’ and there will be mass migration into the United States,” Kelly told an audience at the National Defense University on Oct. 8. “They will run away from Ebola, or if they suspect they are infected, they will try to get to the United States for treatment.”
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The concern over Ebola, he said, keeps him awake at night.
Kelly says some countries in the Western Hemisphere are as ill-equipped to deal with Ebola as West African countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone. The general is in a good position to know the state of affairs; as head of Southern Command his job is to coordinate US military cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean.
Poverty Makes Latin America and Caribbean Vulnerable to Ebola
One reason some Latin American and Caribbean nations are vulnerable to Ebola is poverty. The humanitarian group Oxfam reported that the majority of Ebola cases in West Africa occurred because people simply lacked adequate washing facilities – that is, plumbing.
Kelly says that an Ebola outbreak in a country like Haiti or a Central American nation like Guatemala could be as devastating as the ones in Sierra Leone and Liberia, because those former nations don’t have the necessary resources.
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“By the end of the year, there’s supposed to be 1.4 million people infected with Ebola and 62 percent of them dying, according to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Kelly said. “That’s horrific. And there is no way we can keep Ebola in West Africa.”
Nations Collapsing Because of Ebola?
The situation could get far worse because Ebola could cause governments and entire societies to break down. Dr. Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), believes Ebola will lead to the collapse of some poor nations.
“I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments in already very poor countries,” Chan said of Ebola at a conference in the Philippines. “I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure.”
One way Ebola could reach South and Central America countries is through networks that smuggle illegal immigrants from Africa to countries like the US and Canada.
Kelly reported encountering a group of illegal migrants from Liberia on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Those men “could have made it to New York City and still be within the incubation period for Ebola,” he said. The incubation period for the Zaire strain of Ebola responsible for the current outbreak is around 21 days.
“The embassy person walked over and asked who they were,” Kelly said, “and they told him they were from Liberia and they had been on the road about a week.
“They met up with the network in Trinidad and now they were on their way to the United States – illegally, of course.”
Kelly’s remarks are particularly frightening because illegal immigrants often work in food service, meat packing plants, medical facilities like hospitals and nursing homes.
Some immigrants from Africa have also been encountered in Brazil. BBC correspondent Wyre Davis reported that he encountered an immigrant from Nigeria in Southern Brazil. As in the United States, immigrants in Brazil often work in jobs that involve food and cleaning.
A number of illegal immigrants from Africa suspected of having Ebola have already been detained in Europe, Newsweek reported.
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