Are you medically screening passengers for Ebola: HC to govts

The Centre and Maharashtra Government today informed the Bombay High Court that they had taken adequate measures to prevent the spread of Ebola virus in the wake of a large number of Indians fleeing the West African countries to return home.

Mumbai: The Centre and Maharashtra Government today informed the Bombay High Court that they had taken adequate measures to prevent the spread of Ebola virus in the wake of a large number of Indians fleeing the West African countries to return home.

However, the bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka, after hearing the Centre and going through the affidavit filed by the state government, asked whether the authorities were medically screening the passengers arriving from the Ebola-hit countries.

To this, the lawyers of both the governments said they had no instructions as of now and would inform the court about this later.

The bench, considering the importance of the existing situation, asked the Centre and the State to seek instructions and make a statement tomorrow whether they were medically examining the passengers or else the court would pass necessary orders.

The court was hearing a PIL filed by former journalist Ketan Tirodkar saying that the government was not fully equipped to tackle the spread of Ebola virus.

The Centre told the court there were 18 international airports in as many as 12 states in India where passengers from the affected countries are disembarking. These states have identified their nodal officers and the hospitals attached to the airports for isolation and management of suspected Ebola victims.

Besides, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had set up a control room-cum-helpline 011-23061469, which had so far received 680 calls since its inception on August 9. Most of the callers sought information on symptoms of the disease and travel-related risk of acquiring the infection.

Immigration officers have been trained in 12 of the 18 international airports where such flights disembark. Crew members of the flights arriving in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kochi and Trivandrum (total 11 airlines) have been sensitised on measures to be taken and for passenger screening at the airports, the Centre said in a note.

The Centre further informed that the 'Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) is tracking such passengers, who do not report any symptoms on arrival, but are categorised as having the risk of acquiring the disease because of contact with a suspect case during their stay in an affected country.

The details of such passengers are provided to IDSP by the Airport Health Organisation. Currently, 821 passengers have been tracked by IDSP as on August 27, the Centre said.

In an affidavit, Dr Satish Pawar, Director of Health Services, Maharashtra Government, said the state had also established a helpline for Mumbai (022-24114000) and for rest of Maharashtra (020-26125792). These numbers are forwarded to all the doctors, who are dealing with Ebola suspects.

Also any person who has travelled from African country and has symptoms of Ebola are also asked to contact this number, the state government said.

The state has disseminated uniform guidelines about the screening, surveillance alongwith infection control and clinical management strategies for Ebola, Dr Pawar said.

The Maharashtra government has identified isolation facilities at Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad and Nagpur, where the international passengers are expected to come from Ebola affected countries, Dr Pawar said.

Altogether, 85 beds have been earmarked in these hospitals for suspected Ebola patients. However, currently, there is not a single patient detected with Ebola, he said.

Till date, only two suspected cases of Ebola were admitted to these hospitals. These patients were medically checked and only after confirmation by blood testing that these they were not Ebola patients, they were discharged, the state told the court.

The state said it had adequate stock of personal protective equipment to deal with suspected Ebola cases. The equipment has been provided to Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, airport authorities and all the isolation wards in the hospitals identified for such cases.

The state said that ambulance facilities are provided at the four international airports in the state. If a medical team at the airport suspects Ebola, the passenger is taken to Jogeshwari Trauma Centre for isolation. If the blood test if negative, he or she is discharged. But if the test shows positive, the patient would be shifted to Kasturba Hospital and serious cases referred to J J hospital in Mumbai.

Senior Counsel, Rui Rodrigues, who appeared on behalf of the Union Health Ministry, said the government was fully prepared to tackle the situation and would take adequate steps in this regard.

The PIL also sought a direction to the Union Home Ministry to issue a notice to the Mumbai international airport to prevent passengers arriving from West African countries from alighting from the aircraft.

The petitioner pleaded that India was not equipped to prevent the spread of the virus. He said 112 passengers had recently arrived in Mumbai from Liberia and were quarantined.

The PIL pleaded that USA and South Asia had banned alighting of passengers from West African nations into their territories and India was lagging behind in this regard.

"India should ban the entry of any person travelling from West African countries. Such persons may come via Gulf countries or South East Asian countries," the PIL argued.

Tirodkar urged for direction to the union government to provide protective equipment as set out by World Health Organisation to the Central Industrial Security Force, which secures the airport and also to doctors and nurses at the government hospitals.


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