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Ebola training to start next month

New Delhi, Aug. 22: The Union health ministry plans to train state health officers on ebola next month amid concerns that India needs to strengthen its surveillance and infection-control practices to detect and stamp out the disease if it surfaces in the country.

The ministry, with technical guidance from the World Health Organisation, plans to conduct training programmes in September for state health officers in Delhi and three cities in the eastern, southern and western regions, a WHO official said today.

This “training-the-trainers” programme is expected to bolster India’s level of preparedness for ebola, a potentially lethal viral infection that has killed 1,350 people in West Africa this year.

The WHO has labelled the outbreaks in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria as a “public health emergency of international concern” that requires a well-coordinated response from all countries.

“We expect three to four health officers from each state from the four regions,” said Pavana Murthy, a WHO official in Delhi. “After training, we expect them to disseminate what they’ve learnt to hospitals in their states that have been designated for ebola.”

Ebola can spread from person to person only through direct contact with body fluids, tissues, or secretions of infected persons or contact with material contaminated with infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen or used needles.

Early detection of cases, isolation of patients and appropriate use of personal protection equipment as well as measures such as frequent hand-washing, particularly in healthcare institutions, will be critical to preventing the spread of the ebola virus.

“We believe that countries with health systems that are prepared to respond can quickly contain any imported cases,” Asheena Khalakdina, the team leader for communication diseases at the WHO India office, said.

“India has initiated surveillance and tracking but it could still strengthen infection control practices and surveillance.”

India’s health ministry earlier this month began tracking travellers arriving from the four affected countries. As the ebola virus has a gestation of 21 days, the disease surveillance programme is tracking travellers for up to four weeks. About 589 people are being tracked, mostly in Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The West African outbreaks that began in Guinea in late 2013 have caused illness in nearly 2,500 people, among whom 1,350 have died.

“The West African outbreaks have occurred in the backdrop of compromised health systems,” Nata Menabde, the head of WHO’s India office said. “And deficits in human resources, infrastructure and material resources pose challenges for infection control.”

Some earlier ebola outbreaks were associated with mortality rates of 90 per cent. In the current West African outbreak, the survival rate is 47 per cent.