BEIJING (Reuters) - Closing borders will not effectively curb Ebola infections, the head of the Red Cross said on Wednesday, amid debate over whether bans on travel from hardest-hit African countries would help combat the spread of the deadly virus.
This year's outbreak of the highly infectious haemorrhagic fever thought to have originated in forest bats is the worst on record, having killed more than 4,500 people, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Travellers from the region have infected two people in the U.S. state of Texas and one in Madrid, prompting some leaders, including some U.S. lawmakers, to urge a ban on travel from West Africa.
Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said such restrictions would not make sense.
"It (Ebola) creates a lot of fear and extreme panic that sometimes lead to very irrational type of behaviours and measures, like closing borders, cancelling flights, isolating countries etc.," Sy told reporters in Beijing, where the IFRC, the world's largest humanitarian network, was holding a conference.
"Those are not solutions. The only solution is how can we join our efforts to contain those kinds of viruses and epidemics at their epicentre, right where they start."
Sy said he believed it was possible to contain the disease in four to six months if proper practices were implemented, but that additional investment in the West Africa's health infrastructure would be needed to prevent future outbreaks.
Sy joins world leaders, including World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, in voicing opposition against such travel restrictions.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which so far has not recommended blanket travel or trade restrictions on the West African countries, has warned of 5,000-10,000 new cases of Ebola globally every week by December.
It has said the outbreak constitutes an international public health emergency and has urged the screening of passengers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Health experts warn that excessive constraints on air travel could have severe economic consequences that could destabilise the region and possibly disrupt essential health and humanitarian services.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security ratcheted up safeguards against Ebola on Tuesday, requiring travellers from the three African countries to fly into one of five major airports conducting enhanced screening for the virus.
The White House has said President Barack Obama remains open to a travel ban if public health experts advise it, but Obama has said if a ban was implemented some travellers might attempt to enter the United States by avoiding screening measures, which could lead to more Ebola cases, not fewer.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)