Indian authorities have ramped up screening for the Ebola virus at airports and ports over the past two months to avert an outbreak of the deadly disease that has killed more than 4,000 people, mostly in West Africa.
As part of the heightened surveillance, the government conducts detailed medical examinations of high-risk passengers, including checking their travel history, taking their body temperature and placing under quarantine people with possible symptoms of infection.
The government has screened 21,799 people at airports since it began screening for Ebola two months ago, but nobody has tested positive for the disease in India. So far, 1,200 travellers have been identified as suspected cases and 485 passengers have been quarantined at a Delhi facility.
The passengers had flown from Ebola-affected countries -- Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea, Congo and Senegal -- and had reported Ebola-like symptoms that include fever, fatigue, sore throat, muscle ache, nausea and headache.
The government has also identified one hospital with a dedicated isolation facility in each state to admit people with Ebola-like symptoms. These hospitals are equipped to handle sample collection, diagnosis and treatment of Ebola cases.
“The health ministry is providing technical and material support to states for preparing health facilities with dedicated isolation wards, enabling them to provide diagnosis, treatment and care, and infection control under proper guidelines,” said Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. “We have an efficient surveillance programme running and are fully prepared to deal with any eventuality.”
India has been on high alert since the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency in August. About 8,400 people have been infected so far in the worst Ebola outbreak on record that began in West Africa in March.
With the help from the ministry of external affairs, health officials identify passengers who have travelled to affected countries to screen them at the airport itself. Officials send a list of such passengers to local health departments in their respective states to track and monitor their health for a month.
Most of them are in the states of Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, West Bengal and Delhi.
Health authorities have also posted teams at the Attari border and airport to screen passengers coming from Ebola-affected countries.
According to Dr. P C Mondal, airport health officer at Kolkata airport, approximately 150 passengers have been screened at the airport.
“We are following the guidelines prescribed by central government religiously. Special counters have been set up to handle passengers arriving from Ebola-affected countries. From there they are directed to the health centre at the airport where the passengers are thoroughly screened and a detailed check-up in carried out,” Mondal said.