Healthcare workers at many Indian airports examining inbound passengers for the Ebola virus double up as translators because government health screening cards and advisories for travellers are only in English.
All passengers on flights to India are handed a green “health card” requiring them to list their contact details and travel history to enable the government to track them in case they have been in contact with an Ebola-infected person.
The card also lists the Union health ministry’s Ebola helpline numbers – 011-23063205, 011-23061469, and 011-23061302.
“On an average, we answer 10 calls daily. The numbers dropped to two-three calls a day last month, but of late, the figure has risen again,” said an infection-disease specialist operating the 24x7 helpline run by a team comprising a doctor and three assistants at any given time.
A lot, however, gets lost in translation, as HT found at Amritsar and Kolkata airports, because most in-flight announcements, too, are only in English.
“The forms are in English. The state government, or any other agency for that matter, has not provided anything else. Whatever a passenger gets from the airport health officials is in English,” said PC Mondal, a health officer at Kolkata’s Dumdum airport.
Self-reporting remains the mainstay of tracking Ebola suspects globally as governments largely depend on passengers to report symptoms.
“There’s a lacuna here and we will try to fix it by distributing forms in regional languages,” said a health ministry official. “Each state, however, has separate immigration counters for passengers on connecting flights – from East African and Gulf nations –and these passengers are closely tracked.”
Haj pilgrims will soon comprise a big chunk of passengers being examined, with Srinagar starting screening at its airport from October 19. While the forms are in English, healthcare workers explain the details to passengers in Urdu and Kashmiri.