The panicked, isolationist rush to seal off America from the rest of the world shows how little pundits and politicians understand infectious disease.

“No one, and I mean no one, should be allowed to enter the U.S. from any West African nation ravaged by Ebola,” said Judge Jeanine Pirro of Fox News, playing to fears and biases in the style typical of that network.

The problem with her line of thinking is that it has nothing to do with medicine. It betrays an ignorance of how diseases are contracted, spread and contained. And that’s why it won’t work.

Two weeks ago, the World Health Organization issued a report that said the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was much worse than previously hoped and could pose a sustained threat to the rest of the world, to say nothing of the millions of people living in the hot zone. A companion editorial blamed a complacent global community, unwilling to fund basic solutions to the problem. Maybe that’s because the problem, at the time, was in Africa and not Dallas.

The tragedy is that nothing so drastic as closed borders, martial law or travel bans are required to stop Ebola. Countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone are struggling with the disease because they don’t have enough latex gloves and health workers. There aren’t enough people to monitor potential victims, nor enough protective equipment to keep them safe. Residents of Texas need not worry about an outbreak spreading there because Texas has the first world infrastructure necessary to quarantine a dangerous virus.

For the last few years, the United States and other nations have reduced financial support for the World Health Organization, whose current budget is less than $4 billion a year. According to Mother Jones, the WHO’s original budget this year for attending to health crises was a paltry $228 million. To put things in perspective, the WHO, which is charged with preventing the spread of disease everywhere in the world, has roughly the same budget as Coca-Cola’s ad team.

We could check the temperature of everyone who flies into the United States, ban travel from Africa, put our fingers in our ears and pretend this isn’t happening. That won’t help. For one thing, Ebola takes 21 days generally for symptoms to show, which is plenty of time for a healthy-looking person to get from point A to point B. For another, travel and migration are hard to control. The U.S. doesn’t have fully open borders to begin with, and people still get in, without permission.

The solution, as with any disease, is to treat the source of the infection. We cannot afford to ignore the sick people in West Africa. They need our help. Giving it, besides being the humane thing, is also the selfish thing.

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