With more than 8,000 documented cases and 4,000 reported deaths in West Africa, the Ebola epidemic is outstripping international efforts to contain it. The disease is now endemic in three West African countries. Two cases have been detected in the United States and one in Spain. The World Health Organisation has rightly warned that the likelihood of its reaching Europe is very high. The US and European countries have tightened the screening of passengers from the affected countries but it is clear that the danger can’t was warded off till the disease is eliminated from West Africa.
Though cases have been detected in India, it is important to ensure an afflicted person does not get into the country and move around freely unknowingly. Ebola is a lethal virus with a long incubation period. It takes between 8-21 days for the symptoms to show up once a person is infected. As Prof Piot, who discovered the Ebola virus has recently pointed out, a large number of people from India work in trade or industry in West Africa. It will only take one to become infected, travel to India to visit relatives during the virus’s incubation period, and then, once he or she becomes sick, go to a public hospital. Doctors and nurses in India often don’t wear protective gloves. They will immediately become infected and spread the virus.
India is not fully prepared to meet the challenge. The government’s decision to cancel the India Africa Forum Summit scheduled on December 4 shows it is aware of its limitations. Screening facilities, introduced at a couple of major international airports and a few other entry points, are not enough. Except for a few leading hospitals, the healthcare system is neither equipped nor trained to deal with a person who could be afflicted. The facilities for detection of the virus are available in only two government health institutions and private diagnostic centres can’t detect it. Preventing entry and isolating a victim are vital, as there is no cure or vaccine for Ebola.