Elephant In The Room

THE countdown to departure has reached single figures in terms of weeks and the American trip which acted as a buffer between “some way off” and “God, I’m nowhere near ready” has come and gone.

It is time to stop writing the to-do lists and actually start chalking off the items.

And it is time to address the elephant in the room. Not the ones which, barring something very wrong with the world, will cross our path at some points during the upcoming 10-month trip around Africa.

No, the elephant in the room which has been lurking in every conversation about the trip over the past few weeks – Ebola.

Lurking in the corners
Lurking in the corners

Reactions have varied from the mickey takers, through the genuinely concerned, the geographically confused (Papua New Guinea is neither affected nor on our route) and the fatalist.

“You won’t be going to any of these countries,” said the nurse, scanning to the list of places we were heading as we worked out the exact schedule for vaccinations.

My reply was something along the lines of “we’ll see… long time away yet”, a lack of any genuine debate or disagreement perhaps attributed to the fact she and her colleague were about to simultaneously stick a needle into each of my arms.

Discretion – and cowardice – is the better part of valour (have no real problems with needles as long as not looking at them, so having one from each side made looking away a bit difficult without shutting my eyes and, with a few more jabs still to come, that may not have created the intended impression).

But “we’ll see… long time away yet” has become a sort of standard reply, after explaining that yes, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia and pretty much all the countries hit by the current outbreak are on our route.

Partly to avoid too long an explanation and, largely, because it is just impossible to give a more accurate answer. It is a way off yet and who knows what will happen between now and our arrival in the affected region.

While not one to fret unduly about these things – if we have to change route, then hey, we are still seeing Africa, just a few different bits – and have shrugged off most questions, but that elephant has been lurking and can’t be ignored any longer. The time has come to start asking a few questions.

One of my fellow travellers gave in to the lurking pachyderm first and got in touch with Oasis Overland, the tour organisers, and got back the latest info which was then shared in the first of a series of e-mails which will guide us through the next few weeks (once all the information has been distilled onto those to-do lists, of course).

And while there is obvious reason for concern and a close eye on developments, with alternative routes kept on the back burner, the expert view is that there is no reason for us not to head through the affected region.

Dr Richard Dawood, medical advisor of the African Travel and Tourism Association, is clear about the impact of the disease on the area, but confident it will have minimal impact on our trip

“Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have a very inadequate public health infrastructure that has so far been unable to control the present outbreak,” he said. “Until sufficient external help is provided, the number of cases there will grow and cases will undoubtedly spread to other countries via travel – though in most other countries further spread will be extremely unlikely since very close/body fluid contact is needed for further spread.

“At this stage, I cannot see any situation where clients would actually be at risk, though obviously the situation needs to be taken seriously and monitored closely.”

That view is backed up by the World Health Organisation (WHO), who have taken the step of escalating the status of the outbreak, which should open the doors to additional help in fighting the problem.

Their advice reads: “The risk of a tourist or businessman/woman becoming infected with Ebola virus during a visit to the affected areas and developing disease after returning is extremely low, even if the visit included travel to the local areas from which primary cases have been reported.

“Transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animal, all unlikely exposures for the average traveller. Tourists are in any event advised to avoid all such contacts.”

And that, for the moment, is that. Still not that far past “we’ll see… long time away yet”, but at least the elephant can wander out of the room and back into its natural habitat to prepare for a few photo opportunities when we get there.


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