With the World Health Organization sounding fresh alarm bells on the Ebola crisis, and two cases being detected in the US, the Indian government is preparing 10 new laboratories across the country, apart from the ones already there, to collect and store samples from suspected patients before sending them for diagnosis to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune and National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in Delhi.
Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth chaired a high-level meeting in Delhi on Thursday to review the state of preparedness for Ebola.
In the meeting, through video conferencing, with Chief Secretaries and Health Secretaries of 19 states and union territories which have international airports and seaports, the government announced screenings and surveillance in the coastal regions to monitor suspected cases that might enter through the sea route.
A senior health ministry official said the state governments were not only instructed to conduct efficient screening at airports but also “maintain coordination with all ports, including the minor ports, so that ship crew are also screened properly”.
Senior officials from Civil Aviation and External Affairs ministries were also present at the meeting.
The state governments informed during the meeting that inbound passengers from affected West African countries were being screened.
Till October 15, a total of 22,150 passengers were screened, of which seven were identified to be at medium risk and 56 at high risk while the others were categorised at low risk.
According to the Health Ministry, low risk passengers are given general advice on the virus while medium and high risk passengers are kept under observation for a further period of 30 days and their blood samples tested.
A tracking system has been put in place under the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP).
Sources said some state governments expressed the need for supply of adequate number of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gear for health workers in the screening centres and isolation wards. The ministry announced that 50,000 PPE gear including head gear, suits, boots, goggles and gloves procured earlier and available with the central government will be distributed to the states.
State governments have also been advised to procure PPEs based on specifications of the Health Ministry. Thermal scanners are being deployed at different airports in the country.
Despite apprehensions about the limited testing facilities, Health Ministry officials said after the meeting that NIV, Pune, is “fully equipped to handle the testing work relating to Ebola virus and the NCDC, Delhi, for molecular diagnosis”.
Health officials said immigration officers have been trained and crew members of flights have also been sensitised on the measures to be taken by the airline crew and on the standard operating procedures for passenger screening at the airports by Airport Health Organisations. The Civil Aviation Ministry has been asked to make inflight announcement regarding the virus and its symptoms.