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India to step up travel surveillance to stop any Ebola outbreak

The virus has killed more than 4,500 people across the three most-affected countries, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Updated:October 21, 2014, 11:59 PM IST
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India to step up travel surveillance to stop any Ebola outbreak
The virus has killed more than 4,500 people across the three most-affected countries, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

New Delhi: India stepped up its efforts on Tuesday to prevent an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, conducting mock drills at its airports and installing surveillance systems.

Global health authorities are struggling to contain the world's worst Ebola epidemic since the disease was identified in 1976. The virus has killed more than 4,500 people across the three most-affected countries, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

All international airports and sea ports in India will soon be equipped with thermal scanners -- similar to Nigeria, which has been declared Ebola-free -- and other detection equipment, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

"We have removed all stops to constantly upgrade equipment and retrain staff," Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said. "There is need for constant maintenance, frequent calibration."

While more than 22,000 passengers have been screened, India has so far not reported any cases of Ebola. The WHO, that has warned of 5,000-10,000 new cases globally every week by December, is supporting India's preparations.

Peter Piot, a former WHO official who co-discovered the virus, has expressed concerns about the disease spreading to India. There are nearly 45,000 Indian nationals living in west Africa.

Like the west African countries hit, many experts say India is not adequately prepared to handle any spread of the highly infectious haemorrhagic fever. While government health services remain overburdened, many in rural areas struggle to get access to even basic health services.

Defecating and urinating in the open is common, while hygiene standards remain low, especially in smaller towns and villages in a country of 1.2 billion people.

The government has also launched a 24-hour helpline to offer assistance on Ebola and has selected about 10 laboratories that will handle testing if a case is reported.

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