Gboko John Stewart is a freelance journalist based in Monrovia.
Dear Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
I have been accepted to study at Quest University in Squamish, British Columbia. It was not easy to gain entry into a Canadian university, and when I was accepted I had to begin the search for financial aid. I had to scour every nook and cranny in my country for support granted financial aid. When I finally got it, it was too late for me to join the summer class in 2014, so I had to wait for the next class in the spring of 2015.
But now, my goal of obtaining higher education is impossible because of the visa ban on nationals from the three countries hardest hit by Ebola – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. My future at a Canadian university is now dependant upon the good judgement of your office.
I understand the fear Ebola brings to any nation and, as Prime Minister of Canada, you were acting in the interest of citizens when the pronouncement was issued. However, research done by University of Toronto expert Dr. Kamran Khan shows that "only about 1.5 per cent of people traveling from those countries in any given year come to Canada."
According to the Windsor Star, "A recent study Khan and colleagues published in the journal The Lancet showed the three countries – among the world's poorest – are not major contributors to international travel. Their combined travel made up half of one per cent of all international air travel in 2013. The figure would be expected to be substantially lower in 2014 as many air carriers cancelled flights to those countries. Flights from Liberia are down 51 per cent, from Guinea 66 per cent and Sierra Leone 85 per cent." The chance of Ebola entering Canada from one of these countries is incredibly small.
And, as U.S. President Barack Obama and the WHO Director-General Margaret Chan rightly stated, isolation only creates stigmatization, which has been rife during the outbreak of the disease. To combat stigmatization the hashtag #I'mALiberianNotAVirus was created on social media to wide acclaim.
One of the primary reasons people died during the outbreak was because they feared giving up their customs and traditions. This caused the disease to spread rapidly. A close family friend succumbed to the virus alongside his wife and two kids due to the constant denial of his wife, who didn't believe the health information. With proper screening and awareness the disease has been rapidly beaten back.
From financial support to vaccines, mobile laboratories, protective equipment and man-power, Canada has been one of the countries helping to combat the disease. But that visa ban struck me and many others a powerful blow. I've been trying to make my educational journey to Canada for close to a year and the ban issued by your office has surely dampened my efforts.
I'm imploring that you kindly lift the ban on the countries hit by the virus so that many others, not only me, can come to Canada.