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West African Governments Consider Ban on Travel from United States

LAGOS, NIGERIA —Citing fears of the measles epidemic that has spread to many American cities, several officials in West Africa have proposed temporarily prohibiting travelers from the United States from entering the country.

“We realize that this is an inconvenience,” said Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who supports a travel ban. “But we must put Nigerians’ safety first.”

Paul Oyole, a professor of European and European-American Studies at Lagos State University, blames the recent outbreak on America’s native religious practices. “The American provincial governments typically require measles vaccination for all children who attend compulsory schooling,” Oyole says, "but in one of many efforts to keep peace in the culturally fragmented nation, it allows exemptions for parents whose religious customs prohibit it.”

The outbreak has been particularly severe in the province of California, an arid mountainous region with a long history of ethnic violence remote from the nation’s capital. Many Californians who follow the syncretic animist religion popular in the area believe that vaccines harm ritual bodily purity and can damage the development of the soul, propositions unsupported by experts. Many of those forgoing the vaccines have also removed their children from public education and instead send them to one of many private schools established by the followers of a late-nineteenth-century Christian heretic.

Despite widespread fear, some officials claim that a travel ban is not necessary. “Measles outbreaks happen in places with dysfunctional health systems,” said Kwaku Agyemang-Mensah, the national Minister for Health in Ghana. “Ghana has a very strong measles vaccination program and I do not think there is much risk of the disease spreading.” 93% of Ghanaian infants are vaccinated against measles, more than in many urban areas of California.

Agyemang-Mensah also warns of the consequences of uninformed panic. “Recently, a schoolteacher in Kumasi was told she could not come back to teach because she traveled on vacation to Costa Rica," he said. "They worried that she would give the schoolchildren measles.” Costa Rica lies more than 1500 km from the United States.

Several airports, including Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and Kotoka International Airport in Accra, have introduced medical screening procedures to detect possible carriers of measles. Screeners have been instructed to look both for early symptoms of the disease and for other "indicators of risk," such as certain types of tattoos, jewelry with design patterns from the indigenous American civilizations, and books by the theologian Deepak Chopra.


Editor's Note (2/16/2015 11:39 EST): It has come to our attention that a joke made in this piece bears close resembleance to a joke in a tweet made by Nigerian satirist Elnathan John. To our knowledge, this article was produced separately from Mr. John's tweet as well as any other similar online commentary. No plagiarism was intended.




© 2015