Since pretty much everything the West has said and done so far about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been wrong, there is room for skepticism regarding Ottawa's strategy for controlling the spread of the disease should a case occur here. On the whole, the government has learned from the mistakes of others, but there is still more it needs to do.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose says Canada has a team of epidemiologists and outbreak managers at the ready to fly to wherever a case is diagnosed. As well, every province has, or is in the process of, designating one or two hospitals as treatment centres; staff at each one will be trained to treat Ebola patients and to prevent the disease from being transmitted.
These are smart moves. A rapid-response team could have helped stop Ebola from spreading to two Texas nurses after a patient was diagnosed with the disease in Dallas. And training doctors, nurses and other staff is equally vital. Just putting on and taking off protective gear in right order is a life-and-death scenario.
The problem is that the odds are low that a potential Ebola patient will conveniently walk into a designated hospital. Ms. Ambrose needs to reassure Canadians that staff at all hospitals and medical clinics everywhere know how to flag a suspicious case, and to check on the patient's travel history and that of the people in his or her closest circle. The Ebola patient who died in Texas had visited Liberia – a country at the heart of the West African outbreak – but that information wasn't passed on, and the first doctor to treat him sent him home. He returned to hospital three days later in an ambulance.
Even worse, one of the nurses who has since been diagnosed with Ebola was allowed to fly on a commercial airline after she helped treat the man who died in Texas. Is Canada prepared to strictly enforce quarantine on a potentially infected person?
When the Ebola outbreak was first reported in West Africa, developed countries responded with a collective yawn. Consequently, the predicted death toll has increased by a factor of more than 10 in the space of a month, and the disease is spreading. As long as Ebola is not under control in West Africa, the risk of an infected patient turning up in Canada remains. Our health system can contain the disease, but only if the people in charge take it seriously. A wise minister of health would err on the side of extreme caution.