Fellow banned from conference amid Ebola concerns

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A VISITING FELLOW at Oxford and world renowned expert on tropical diseases has been forced to pull out of attending a conference in America over fears that he may have Ebola. Dr Piero Olliaro, a visiting fellow at Lincoln College and senior figure at the World Health Organisation Special Programme Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, was supposed to present his papers on river blindness and malaria, but was told that if entered the country he would be confined to his hotel room for the duration of his visit.

He was forced to pull out of the conference af- ter it emerged he was in Ebola-ravaged Guinea two weeks ago looking for suitable areas to test new Ebola medicine. The organisers of the conference, due to be held in New Orleans, emailed Dr Olliaro, “We see no utility in you travelling to New Orleans simply to be confined to your room.”

Eleven other doctors have also been prevented from attending due to Louisiana’s strict dis- ease prevention laws, which state that anybody who has been in Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea over the past three weeks should not attend the conference.

The conference, organised by the American Society of Tropical Medicine, is stilled planned to go ahead, with Bill Gates lined up as keynote speaker. The Society has spoken out strongly against the decision to prevent Dr Olliaro and other medics from taking part, issuing a statement saying, “The Society does not agree with the policy as outlined by Louisiana… The State of Louisiana’s policies are outside of the scientific understanding of Ebola transmission.”

Dr Olliaro himself accepted, if unwillingly, the decision of the authorities, conceding, “I can’t say it was totally unexpected.” He did however profess that the decision was not in the public interest, saying, “One of the things they will be discussing is Ebola, but they are excluding Ebola experts.”

Student reaction to the decision has been mixed. Liam Eagle, a student at Univ strongly disagreed with Louisiana’s policy, commenting, “It’s a classic example of scaremongering without the basis of science, which is only going to be to the detriment of poor and powerless. The effect of this decision is to hold back research that has the potential to save millions of lives, all because a few people have been caught up in the baseless fear about Ebola.”

However, some students disagree. Lucjan Kaliniecki, a Human Scientist at St Catz, supported the decision, saying, “It’s perfectly reasonable. Of course there is such a thing as being too careful, but assuming he’s within the 21 day incubation period then voluntary quarantine is recommended. From the sounds of it, if no one’s losing their shit and spraying disinfectant on their dogs, I don’t see anything wrong with adhering to simple advice.” 

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