In view of the outbreak of Ebola viral disease in four West African countries, the Indian government Wednesday recommended that non-essential travel to these countries be deferred till the situation is brought under control.The government said travellers originating or transiting from the affected countries to India would be monitored.Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, in a statement in both houses of parliament, said the World Health Organization has reported over 1,600 cases of Ebola, including 887 deaths till Aug 4 from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.He said the specific virus isolated in the current outbreak is the Zaire Ebola Virus and the disease is severe, with fatality rate of upto 90 percent.
In Africa, the Ebola virus is carried by the fruit bats which then infect animals like the chimpanzee, gorilla, monkey and forest antelope. Humans catch the infection either from the infected animals or from infected humans when they come in close contact with infected body fluids or body secretions.The Director General of Health Services reviewed the situation and has issued advisories to the State Disease Surveillance Units to be on alert for early detection and management of travel related cases. Laboratory capacity has also been strengthened at the National Institute of Virology, Pune and National Centre for Disease Control, Delhi, to diagnose this viral disease.
The Ministry of External Affairs has informed that there are about 4,700 Indians in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from where the maximum cases have been reported. Of the 3,000 Indians in Liberia, around 300 are personnel of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force, comprising largely women, as a part of UN Peace Keeping operations. Nigeria has nearly 40,000 Indian citizens living there."If the situation worsens in the affected countries, there could be possibility of these Indians travelling back to India. The Ministry of Defence has informed that there are about 7,000 Indian troops deployed in the African continent, but not in the affected countries," the ministry said.
The health minister said that while the risk of transmission to countries outside the African region is low presently, but the government would be keeping tabs on travellers originating or transiting from Ebola virus affected countries to India. It would gather details of the passengers from the concerned Airlines and Indian missions and tracking the persons after their arrival in India."Mandatory self reporting by the passengers coming from or transiting through the affected countries would be required at the time of immigration check. In-flight announcements regarding this would also be made by the Airlines. There would be designated facilities at the relevant airports/ports to manage travellers manifesting symptoms of the disease. The surveillance system would be geared up to track these travellers for four weeks and to detect them early, in case they develop symptoms. These persons would also be advised to self report in case of symptoms," he said.
The Armed Forces would be advising their personnel in the affected region about ways to reduce the infection. The armed forces personnel returning to India on leave or otherwise coming back would be suitably tracked and monitored for symptoms.While there is no vaccine or curative therapy for Ebola virus, disease outbreaks can be contained through early detection and isolation of cases, contact tracing and monitoring, and following rigorous procedures for infection control, he said."The situation is being monitored. 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," the health minister said.