Due to the spread of Ebola, members of the Yale community will now face heavy restrictions when traveling to parts of West Africa.
In a campus-wide email last Tuesday, Provost Benjamin Polak and Yale Health Director Paul Genecin issued a three-page document that detailed the University’s updated policy and procedures regarding travel to and from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In order to receive University approval for travel to the region, students, faculty and staff will now need to receive approval from their dean and from Polak, comply with regulations outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and adhere to the 21-day mandatory quarantine issued by Connecticut when they return.
In light of a recent Ebola-related scare at Yale-New Haven Hospital this month, Polak and Genecin said these changes aim to address travel to these countries for both educational and personal reasons.
“Recognizing Yale’s mission to create new and useful knowledge, coupled with the responsibility to protect our community from the Ebola threat, the University is restricting student, faculty and staff travel to these three West African countries,” the new policy stated. “Others may be added to this list if conditions change in the future.”
Special Adviser to the President Martha Highsmith said the travel policy was updated to include both the most recent information from the CDC and the directive from the Gov. Dannel Malloy requiring a quarantine for those returning from the West African countries.
The updated restrictions, which have been in effect since last Monday, mandate that travelers to this area of West Africa must have an “urgent” need, which may include containing and stopping the spread of the disease.
“The Ebola outbreak continues to devastate communities and the health care systems and public infrastructure in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” the updated policy read. “We are continuing to monitor information about the virus and consulting with colleagues at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state and local Departments of Public Health.”
In order to receiving the provost’s signature, potential University travelers must submit “an approved research protocol,” work for a recognized aid group or organization — such as International Medical Corps or Doctors Without Borders — and provide evidence of training in the use of protective equipment.
In addition, the new procedures noted that since FrontierMEDEX — which provides emergency security and medical coverage for Yale students when they go abroad — may no longer be able to offer assistance, the traveler must propose a plan for evacuation or support in case of a sequester.
Undergraduates, however, will not be permitted to receive funding or credit for travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Still, Highsmith said this restriction on undergraduate travel to these three nations is not new to the updated policy. She noted this ban has been in effect since mid-September, prior to the Ebola-related scare at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
The new travel procedures were met largely with praise from members of the public health community on campus.
“The Yale policy on travel to Ebola-affected countries will prompt thoughtful conversations and planning on the part of any individuals who are looking to study or provide aid for Ebola,” said Kristina Talbert-Slagle, senior scientific officer for the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute. “I did not interpret the policy as unnecessarily discouraging, but rather as a careful, thoughtful reflection of both the complex issues involved in travel to Ebola-affected countries and also the importance of collaborating with a team to decide how best to contribute to addressing this global health crisis.”
She further described the travel policy as a “helpful guide” in implementing and putting these efforts into practice.
Erinma Kalu SPH ’15 said she supported the new measures since they restrict travel to Ebola-affected areas when the need is not entirely essential, while also accommodating individuals who aim to provide important aid.
“If someone travels to the Ebola-affected areas without proper expertise and understanding of infectious disease transmission, that person puts himself or herself at risk and potentially the Yale community at risk,” she said.
This month, Harvard University similarly issued updated procedures, which now require that all travelers to West Africa to receive approval by both the university provost and respective school dean.