Behaviour protocol should be established for the futureThe world has great sympathy for so many people in parts of West Africa who have lost family members to the dreadful ebola epidemic. No one can fail to appreciate how appalling it must be to live in an affected area and to see the fever spread around you.
It has at last become a priority for nations outside the affected areas to provide assistance as rapidly as possible – and, at the same time, to do everything possible to protect their own nations from its spread.
It appears to be fortunate that in places such as Spain and the USA, where people have caught the disease from their own selfless efforts in caring for ebola patients, that till now the disease has not spread into new populations.
The focus, from the point of view of identifying the possible spread of the deadly virus, is on possible carriers of the disease moving rapidly from country to country.
It appears that the incubation period of ebola is 21 days and that it is passed on from an infected person only when the fever has appeared and only then when there is personal contact.
After the initial panic in the face of what appeared to be an unstoppable advance of ebola, there is growing confidence that the situation can be controlled. Some patients have actually been cured; certain medical treatments seem to be working; disinfectants and protective clothing are being proved to offer protection.
However, there is no doubt that the MICE sector has to be particularly vigilant. This business, as much as any, demands the rapid movement of people from country to country and the mixing of many nationalities in close proximity at meetings, conventions and exhibitions.
It is vital, therefore, where big international events are being held, for the host countries to operate strict monitoring of people at the point of entry to ensure that no one carrying the ebola fever can be allowed to mix with attendees from all over the world.
World Travel Market, to be held in the first week of November 2014 at ExCel in London, has been conducting a webinar on the topic of precautions. The organisers are pleased that the UK, in addition to sending experts and supplies to help in West Africa during this medical emergency, is introducing special checks not only at airports but also at St Pancras Railway Station, where the Eurostar trains deliver passengers so rapidly from mainland Europe.
ITCM suggests that there should be a list of guidelines to be followed in future whenever such a medical emergency arises anywhere in the world.
It seems strange that it has taken so long for individual countries to make arrangements to combat the spread of ebola in their own countries and to provide assistance to control it in the affected areas. It would be much simpler and more immediately effective to have an internationally agreed list of changes in behaviour whenever a serious medical threat of this kind arises. For example, handshaking could be replaced with an accepted wave of the hand, as sweat is one way in which the virus can be passed from person to person.
It is very difficult for polite international executives at a conference to decide unilaterally not to shake hands, but if this were on a published list of agreed actions to be taken or avoided in the event of a medical emergency, it would save face - and possibly lives, too.