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US Universities Enact Travel Restrictions Due To Ebola Scare

Universities around the U.S. are issuing restrictions prohibiting their students, faculty and staff from traveling to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the West African countries hit hardest by the Ebola epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control advises Americans to avoid all non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and adds that “education-related travel to these counties should be postponed until further notice.” But many institutions with public health or medical programs must find a delicate balance between keeping their communities safe and doing the work that many of these institutions treat as part of their mission.

Universities that have restricted school-sponsored travel include institutions as varied as Georgetown University, the State University of New York system, New York University, Cornell, the University of georgia and Duke, which instituted its ban as far back as August. 

But most of the colleges instituting bans allow for the possibility of exceptions for those conducting Ebola-related research or relief work.

Columbia University in New York, for example, issued a statement banning travel to West Africa: “Accordingly, all Columbia students, faculty, and staff must avoid travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. Students will not receive credit or funding for activities involving travel in these countries, and student groups are not permitted to visit any of them.”

But the university will make exceptions for those who may need to travel to help fight the epidemic. Such university community members must request approval from their deans and the university provost.

“The university has a service mission, and we have experts and researchers who can contribute actively to solving the problem and containing it,” Columbia University provost John H. Coatsworth told the New York Times. He added that four university members were already in Liberia and Sierra Leone working on the Ebola response, while two more members will join them soon.

Harvard University enacted a similar policy, the Harvard Crimson reported, asking students, faculty and staff to avoid non-essential travel to the three Ebola-stricken countries. But the university also recognized that Harvard affiliates in fields like public health may still need to go.

“To contribute effectively in-country entails great personal risk and requires complex logistical support, which only a few aid organizations and governments are capable of providing. Only clinicians with the highest level of readiness—personal, mental, and professional—should even consider traveling,” read Harvard’s guidelines. Those clinicians must obtain permission from their deans and the provost.

Johns Hopkins University, renowned for its medical and public health programs, is one institution that has not banned travel outright, but does discourage such trips. The university asks that if Johns Hopkins-affiliated individuals do plan to travel to West Africa, they should notify their deans and department chairs. About 15 people from the community have traveled to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to do Ebola-related work there this year, reports the university.

Rob Cesternino

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