While international fears continue to rise as Ebola crosses international borders and continents, China still has not reported a confirmed case of the deadly virus. But Professor Peter Piot, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the doctors who discovered Ebola hemorrhagic fever, said that it's only a matter of time before the high volume of Chinese working in Africa bring the disease within China's borders.
While speaking at a symposium at the University of Hong Kong, Piot, a Belgian scientist known for his research on Ebola and AIDS, who is also credited for being part of the team that discovered Ebola in 1976, said that the virus will come to China because of the number of Chinese people employed in Africa, adding that the outbreak will likely continue to expand and worsen before medicine and public health protocol catches up and controls the disease by next year.
Recent cases of Ebola have been recorded in the United States, Germany, Spain, Norway, France and the U.K., but countries in West Africa have been hit the worst. In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, over 4,500 deaths due to Ebola have been confirmed so far, with over 9,000 cases reported.
As a measure of preventing the spread into international borders, several countries have employed new tactics to screen for the virus, ranging from the most extreme cases of shutting all borders from tourists such as in North Korea to arrival screenings in various different cities. Hong Kong’s airport, which is an international hub, is mostly relying on arrival screenings to prevent Ebola from entering its borders, but it may not be as effective as the region's officials think.
“Widespread screening [of arrivals] in airports is not that effective, to be honest.... [T]he most cost-effective method is to screen people before they take the plane,” Piot said at the symposium, according to the South China Morning Post. “In Africa, there are many Chinese working there, so that could be a risk for China in general, and I assume that one day [an outbreak of Ebola in China] will happen,” he added.
China’s government and health officials hope to take lessons from dealing with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, pandemic that hit China in 2003 by setting a plan in place ahead of time and placing importance on honest and accurate communication and reporting between government bodies. China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission ordered local governments to conduct assessments of their preparedness for Ebola cases if and when the virus arrives. This included keeping detailed databases of people who have been in close quarters with suspected patients and having designated hospitals for care.