The ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa which started in December of 2013 is the largest one recorded.
There have been thousands of cases and fatalities in countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Several health workers who were working in West Africa and subsequently contracted Ebola have been medically evacuated back to the USA and Europe.
One of the health workers, Thomas Duncan, was diagnosed with Ebola after travelling to Texas by plane from Sierra Leone. He is believed to have had contact with an unknown man who is homeless and has subsequently gone missing. Authorities are trying to locate the man, who might be infected with Ebola, and could potentially pass the highly infectious disease on to others. Ebola is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, such as blood or sweat, or contact with any object that has been in contact with bodily fluids. This means that a handshake, or even the exchange of money can bring the risk of infection.
In my recent blogpost about homelessness and its effect on health, I focussed on the health problems that those facing homelessness can have. But this story shows how homelessness can affect the health of everyone. People who are sleeping rough, who have lowered immune systems and other health problems are more susceptible to infection. Infectious diseases are also more difficult to contain if those who contract them do not have a fixed address.
There have been documented instances of outbreaks of diseases such as tuberculosis in homeless shelters. This has lead to shelters being closed, which has resulted in people with tuberculosis being put on the street, without proper medical treatment. These people have been turned into a health risk, even though they didn’t need to be. This is why it is important for everyone that those who are facing homelessness get the medical services and shelter that they need.
Medical professionals have suggested response planning for future outbreaks in cities with substantial numbers of homeless individuals. But what we sorely need are preventative measures. We need to think of the prevention of homelessness not just as generosity towards a group of people who have no effect on our lives. Housing and healthcare needs to be for everyone to protect the health of our entire society. Homelessness is bad for us all, not just the people who find themselves facing it. While so many people are homeless, our society needs to face it as well, rather than turning away and having to deal with the inevitable consequences.