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International airport not Ebola-ready

Jayaprakash Narayan International Airport could end up being a gateway for the dreaded Ebola virus.

The Airports Authority of India recently asked all international airports to set up a screening chamber for the virus. But the airport is yet to do so.

The order follows World Health Organisation’s advisory for screening for Ebola at all international airports in the world. Those infected by Ebola virus or Ebola hemorrhagic fever have a mortality rate of up to 90 per cent and no specific treatment has been found yet. Asked why the facility had not come up, JPNI airport director Sono Marandi said he had not received any notification or alert from AAI in this regard.

But other sources at JPNI airport attributed non-execution of the AAI alert to non-operation of international flights from the airport.

“Though it is an international airport, no international flights operate from here. Among the few passengers of foreign origin who come to Patna on connecting flights from other bigger airports in the country, very rarely are passengers from the worst-affected countries in West Africa, namely Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria,” said a senior official at the airport.

WHO had, till August 4, reported 1,603 cases — including 887 deaths — in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The advisory it issued said: “It is one of the world’s most virulent diseases. The infection is transmitted through direct contact with blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care.” Sources say the Ebola virus has an incubation period of 13 to 25 days, after which patients develop symptoms including fever, fatigue, vomiting, nausea, sore throat, muscle pain, and seizures, which can even lead to coma.

Fliers from the city are concerned about the lack of seriousness about Ebola virus at the airport. “I agree that hardly any African citizen comes to Patna or other places in the state. But some Bihar residents might be working in the affected countries. If infected, these people could spread the disease when they return. So, it is extremely necessary to start the screening facility at Patna airport,” said Gardanibagh resident Pranav Kumar, who works in Pune.

On Wednesday, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan had announced in Parliament that there are close to 45,000 Indians in the affected countries.

Aviation experts, too, condemned authorities at Patna airport for not starting Ebola screening facility.

“Forget about screening and precautionary measures, there is no awareness what health measures should be taken at Patna airport in case of detection. I remember it took several months for the airport authorities to set up a screening mechanism during the H1N1 outbreak in 2010. Such callous attitude that puts fliers health at risk is not good at all,” said Atul Singh, executive director at the Delhi-based Centre for Aviation, Policy, Safety and Research.