The Ebola Crisis- Is India Adequately Protected from it?

Written by: Pathikrit Payne
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Can India Afford an Ebola Crisis?
Patrick Sawyer, the naturalized American citizen of Liberian origin became terribly ill onboard a flight from Liberia to Nigeria. In Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, Sawyer finally died in the last week of July due to deadly and incurable Ebola virus but not before spreading the disease to many healthcare workers who were treating him at a hospital.

Over the last one month or so, Ebola virus has spread like wildfire in Liberia, Sierra leone, Guinea and in parts of Nigeria sparking fears of a global outbreak. More than 900 people have already died in the last one month or so due to this deadly virus which is yet to have a cure.

Ebola- Now a Global Threat

The situation is so critical now that World Health Organization has declared it as a Public Health Emergency which would help the affected countries to get more global aid to fight the catastrophe. Ebola is basically a hemorrhagic fever which results in extreme diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding and intense weakness resulting in kidney and liver failure and eventually leading to death.

Is this the most fatal disease known to mankind?

The fatality rate of Ebola Virus is up to 90 % . It is one of the most contagious diseases in the world which spread rapidly through any kind of contact with bodily fluid including even sweat and also saliva, blood and urine. In most case it is the healthcare workers treating the affected patients who are at the highest risk of exposure and contraction of the diseases. In the present case as well, a large number of healthcare workers have died while treating the patients.

The extent of risk with respect to the spread of Ebola virus is so profound and cataclysmic that when it was mooted that the three US aid workers who contracted the disease while on a missionary trip to Liberia would be brought back to US for treatment, it was met with intense resistance from certain sections of US citizens.

Spreading faster - A Local disease in a Globalized Environment

Ebola outbreak has been a periodic affair in West Africa but its impact has not been as profound in the past terms of the number of casualties as it is now. Part of the reason as wonderfully explained in an article in New York Times stated,

‘Past Ebola outbreaks have been snuffed out, often within a few months. How, then, did this one spin so far out of control? It is partly a consequence of modernization in Africa, and perhaps a warning that future outbreaks - which are inevitable - will pose tougher challenges. Unlike most previous outbreaks, which occurred in remote, localized spots, this one began in a border region where roads have been improved and people travel a lot. In this case, the disease was on the move before health officials even knew it had struck.'

Today more number of Africans travel by air than ever before. In fact on the flip side of globalization, epidemics or deadly viruses are no more a localized affair. It does not take much time nowadays for a contagious disease to travel from a distant Nigeria to as far as India or even Hong Kong.

A single patient travelling by air can not only spread it inside the plane but also upon landing on to the destination. Thus a deadly, contagious and an incurable virus synonymous with sub tropical African region, can in a few hours time travel across the globe without even the knowledge of the healthcare authorities of concerned nations.

Can Developing Countries Afford to Allow this Uninvited Deadly Guest to Sneak in?

The strange thing is that even though Nigeria has closed its borders with Liberia and inside Liberia, the Liberian Army is out to quarantine the most affected regions to restrict its spread and efforts are also being made to prevent sick people from travelling abroad, the key question is what are the developing and developed countries doing to prevent its spread in their own countries?

As stated above, a large number of Africans including those from West African countries travel across several parts of the world including India every day thereby enormously increasing the risk of its spread.

In India, even though adequate measures have been taken in terms of opening emergency medical centers in all the international airports and special monitoring is being done on flights coming from Western African countries, the moot question is whether it is enough to thwart the danger of Ebola.

Are Emergency Medical Centers in Airports Adequate Protection?

It has to be kept in mind that Ebola infection has an incubation period which may vary from a few days to a few weeks and thus a passenger might arrive in India from West Africa looking perfectly normal and yet carrying the virus inside his body. Now he might pass the scrutiny of the discerning eyes of the medical teams stationed at the airports but might end up spreading the disease like wildfire.

It has also to be kept in mind that the present Ebola crisis across four countries in West Africa spread from one single 2 year old child and his immediate family who all contracted the disease from the child and spread it beyond.

What Government should ideally do? Temporarily ban flights from West Africa

Therefore, even though setting up of emergency medical teams by the Union Government in all international airports is a good and necessary step, it is perhaps not an adequate one. It has to be coupled with a temporary ban on all flights from West African countries in the short term period.

Not that it would completely solve the problem but it would certainly create a second round of barrier which is much needed now. For those Indians who stay in those countries, special arrangements can be made to lift them back by Air India as has been done with people trapped in Libya or Iraq.

Can India Afford an Ebola Crisis? No is the answer...

If India, already besieged with a large number of problems of its own is to be spared from another deadly catastrophe, then it is time to be strict and quarantine air travel, both inbound and outbound between India and the affected regions. Unless such drastic measures are taken, we might just be at the mercy of Ebola and its potential carriers that it has not yet spread.

It is time to temporarily forget issues related to bilateral relations or the trade involved. It is better to prevent than cure and thus some drastic steps are needed right now. Given the population at stake, the economic costs involved, discretion perhaps would be better than valor

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