India is on the alert for the Ebola virus, said Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, suggesting there is a risk the deadly virus could be imported into the 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, the minister told Parliament on Wednesday.
“If the situation worsens in the affected countries, there could be a 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.
Harsh 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.
Of the 4,700 Indians in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, 300 are Central Reserve Police Force personnel – comprising largely women – serving as UN peacekeepers in Liberia. Nigeria has nearly 40,000 Indian citizens.
There are also 7,000 Indian troops deployed in other African nations, but not in the affected countries.
The Health Minister 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 symptoms.
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 website.
“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,” Mr. Vardhan said.