The clarification that a Nigerian admitted to a government hospital in New Delhi was not a patient of Ebola is a matter of great relief. It is also true that a Nigerian woman on her way to India had Ebola-like symptoms and died at Abu Dhabi. The incidents are a pointer to the challenges India faces, as the viral disease spreads in West Africa already killing nearly 1,200 patients in countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. While no such case has been reported in India, the government cannot remain complacent and has to take a host of preventive measures. As it is, there is no medical remedy to Ebola.
Though the WHO has authorised the use of an as-yet-untested-on-human beings American drug, its commercial availability will be several months away. In other words, the medical authorities will have to think of other ways to prevent the epidemic from reaching India. The travel advisory India has issued against visiting Ebola-affected countries is too mild, to say the least. In areas where the disease has been reported, the authorities have introduced a policy of not allowing anyone to leave, reminiscent of the way plague was fought centuries ago. India, too, will have to adopt some such policies to keep it free from the virus.
The incubation period of Ebola ranges from two days to three weeks. At present, people flying into the country from West Africa are let in on the basis of their own statements and the lack of symptoms. It may be necessary to quarantine them at the airport for a maximum of three weeks before they are allowed to enter the country. Even after they are cleared, they should be kept under constant surveillance. The health ministry has to develop and disseminate a protocol to handle cases of Ebola. The Indian drug industry, which has a reputation for developing cheap but efficient drugs, needs to see in Ebola a new challenge. While there is no need to panic, the nation should be prepared to square up to Ebola if it becomes necessary.