The Bombay high court on Wednesday directed Maharashtra government to provide medical screening facilities at Pune and Nagpur airports to detect Ebola virus among passengers arriving from affected countries, on the lines of existing amenities at Mumbai and Delhi airports The direction was given by a bench headed by justice Abhay Oka on a PIL filed by activist Ketan Tirodkar alleging that India was not fully equipped to prevent the spread of Ebola.
The PIL said many persons of Indian origin are leaving African countries due to outbreak of Ebola and returning to India where there are no facilities either to detect or treat the epidemic.
The Union government on Tuesday filed an affidavit saying they had taken adequate precautions at the airports to detect Ebola virus among the passengers, following which the bench expressed that prima facie it was satisfied with the measures undertaken by the Centre.
The court was informed that the state government had written a letter to the director of medical education and research requesting them to make necessary arrangements at Pune, Nagpur and other airports to medically screen passengers who come from the affected African countries.
The Union government has put in place health screening for detection of symptomatic cases. Accordingly, all the travellers who have visited or transited through the affected countries in the last 21 days and have symptoms suggestive of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) are required for mandatory reporting at health counters, the Centre’s affidavit said.
Additionally, health screening is undertaken by the Airport health officials, said the affidavit filed by Dr VL Gokak, senior regional director, ministry of health and family welfare.
In the health screening by airport officials, all the passengers are screened through a thermal scan and digital thermometer to segregate cases of Ebola virus and to isolate, further investigate and treat such high risk cases in a designated facility, the affidavit said.
The Centre said that the purpose of screening is to identify suspect cases of Ebola virus and thereafter to isolate the suspect, further investigate and provide treatment and care.
As far as health screening at Pune, Nagpur and Aurangabad airports is concerned, there are no flight at present arriving there from the affected countries. However, in future, if these airports received passengers from the affected countries then health screening facilities shall be provided there, the Centre’s affidavit said.
At Pune airport, there are six flight which are not direct flight from the affected countries but which come from Dubai and Sharjah. As regards the Nagpur airport, there are only three flight which arrive from Dubai. There are no international flight arriving at Aurangabad airport.
The court then asked the government to provide health screening facilities at Pune and Nagpur airports with immediate effect.
The union government had informed the court earlier that it had provided ‘personal protection equipment’ (PPE) to doctors at the airports to save them from contracting infection.
Tirodkar had said that PPE is required at airports to examine patients suspected to have contracted Ebola. World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that doctors can refuse to examine patients if PPE is not available, but in India PPE is not provided, he had alleged.
The PIL also sought a direction to the union home ministry to ask the Mumbai international airport to prevent passengers arriving from West Africa from alighting, as the US and some south Asian countries have done.