India fears import of deadly Ebola virus if people return from affected countries
NEW DELHI: Indian authorities are on alert for the
Ebola virus, the health minister said, suggesting there is a risk the deadly
virus could be imported into country if the large population of Indians working
in the four affected West African nations returns.
There are nearly 45,000 Indian nationals living and
working in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria - where an outbreak of the
disease has killed 932 people, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told parliament on
“If the situation worsens in the affected countries,
there could be possibility of these Indians travelling back to India,” Vardhan
said. “While the risk of Ebola virus cases in India is low, preparedness
measures are in place to deal with any case of the virus imported to India.”
Liberia has declared a state of emergency to tackle
the worst-ever outbreak of the disease, its health system is collapsing.
Officials say some major airlines have halted flights to the affected countries
and many expatriates are leaving.
Though the vast majority of cases are in the remote
border area of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, concern over Ebola’s spread
grew last month when a US citizen died in Nigeria of the virus after arriving
from the region. A nurse who treated him also died in Lagos, Nigeria’s most
populous city, and at least five other people have been isolated with symptoms.
In Saudi Arabia, a man suspected of contracting Ebola
during a recent business trip to Sierra Leone died early on Wednesday in
Vardhan advised against all non-essential travel to
the four countries, adding that authorities will screen travellers who
originate from or transit through affected nations, and track them after their
arrival in India.
In-flight announcements prior to landing will be done
by airlines, and passengers will be informed that mandatory self-reporting is
required at immigration.
The government will also set up facilities at airports
and ports to manage travellers showing symptoms of the disease. Signs range
from fever and intense weakness to internal and external bleeding and the
incubation period is two to 21 days.
“The surveillance system would be geared up to track
these travellers for four weeks and to detect them early, in case they develop
symptoms,” Vardhan said. “These persons would also be advised to self report in
case of symptoms.”
Of the 4,700 Indians in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra
Leone, 300 are Central Reserve Police Force personnel - comprising largely
women – serving as U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia. Nigeria has nearly 40,000
There are also 7,000 Indian troops deployed in other
African nations, but not in the affected countries. Vardhan said the troops
will be informed of precautions to take to reduce the risk of contracting the
disease, and returning personnel will also be tracked and monitored for
State authorities have been instructed to designate
hospitals with isolation wards for response to possible cases and to stock
personal protective equipment.
The minister said the government also planned to
spread public awareness about the disease through newspapers, radio and
television. Information about the virus will be posted on the health ministry's
“Though there is no vaccine or curative therapy for
Ebola virus disease, I want to apprise this house that outbreaks can be
contained through early detection and isolation of cases, contact tracing and
monitoring, and following rigorous procedures for infection control, if such
cases were to report in our country,” Vardhan said.