South Africa proposes travel ban to curb Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

South African health officials said on Wednesday that they will turn to Europe, the U.S. and Asia for consultation over a proposal to ban travel to the country and several countries in the region…

South Africa proposes travel ban to curb Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

South African health officials said on Wednesday that they will turn to Europe, the U.S. and Asia for consultation over a proposal to ban travel to the country and several countries in the region from May 1.

The initiative, which the government says is in line with international health guidelines, was announced in an effort to restrict the spread of the highly infectious and potentially fatal Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD).

Since World War II, HFMD outbreaks have been chronic in South Africa. A campaign has been under way since 2014 to reduce cases, an effort that is believed to have led to a 44 percent drop in the number of cases from 2015 to 2017. The current spike in numbers of cases has led to a number of recent recommendations from the South African Ministry of Health, including that schools be segregated.

Commenting on the initiative, Northup Masilela, the communications director of SAHO, said: “Since an outbreak of HFMD in 2016, South African doctors, nurses and health professionals in the country have been praised around the world for their professionalism in dealing with cases of HFMD.”

“We regret this unwelcome precedent,” he added.

Dr. Dunstan Janse van Vuuren, an epidemiologist and researcher at the University of Gauteng, said that the travel ban would further stigmatize South Africans who are already suffering from discrimination.

“It is outrageous and goes against the good work that has been done to control HFMD in South Africa,” he said. “I am a South African and I certainly would not be willing to be discriminated against because I live in South Africa.”

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Adam Tomkins, the WHO representative in South Africa, argued that HIV, TB and malaria remain the principal public health threats in the country and said it was important to protect against those conditions.

“The travel ban is particularly directed at certain health-care workers, particularly the respiratory lab workers, the disease detectives, the scientists, that they would make sure we don’t get a new disease that could threaten South Africa,” he said.

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