Government braces to take on Ebola

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The biggest nurses union in the United States, Nurses United, is up in arms. It has warned authorities that it will picket hospitals if nurses are not given the right and proper training to take care of Ebola patients. But nurses in India seem to be unperturbed. They say there is no clear and present danger: Ebola is in Africa and America!

But the government has woken up. This, after the WHO warned that by December-end Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone will have 10,000 new cases of Ebola per week. Death toll has crossed the 4,500 mark in these countries. One man died last week in a Texas hospital. Two nurses who gave care to him also caught the virus. On Friday, Nurses United said: “There are no protocols.”

What about India? On Thursday, cabinet secretary Ajit Seth spoke with chief secretaries of all states to review preparedness. The government will set up 10 new laboratories in various parts of the country to conduct tests for Ebola. Aggressive screening for Ebola will be done at international airports and ports. A tracking system under the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) will aggressively pursue “contacts”. Provision of personal protection equipment (PPE) is top priority.

“We have stocks of PPE from H1N1 days. But H1N1 was airborne. Ebola spreads by contact. PPE stocks from then have to be solidified,” Dr Ranjit Guleria of AIIMS told dna. “Doctors and healthcare workers need to be trained on how to put them on, and how to take them off. There is a protocol.”

Healthcare workers are most at risk. So far 200 healthcare workers have died of Ebola in west Africa. But nurses in India are not showing any urgency. An office-bearer of the Trained Nurses Association of India told dna that TNAI was “preparing” a paper on how to deal with the scourge, which will be published in its journal. She refused to give her name.

Usha Krishna Kumar, president of the Delhi-based Nurses Welfare Association, said the government was addressing the issue. “So far, we are fortunate that no cases of Ebola have landed in India. We can only wait and watch. I don’t know what kind of training will be given. But I believe answers to all questions will be found,” Kumar told dna.

Dr Guleria said aggressive surveillance at airports and ports; aggressive isolation of cases of Ebola; special training to doctors and healthcare workers, and fully-equipped facilities to quarantine, test and treat Ebola-infected patients are the four important needs of the hour.

“You got to ask questions. Do you have fever? Have you travelled to and from countries in west Africa?” Dr Guleria told dna. “Ebola takes 20-22 days to incubate. The virus manifests itself only after that. Doctors have to ask the right questions, and learn to read the signs,” Dr Guleria said.

So, is India prepared? Guleria said no country can be “totally prepared” to tackle Ebola. If Ebola sneaks into India and spreads, it will result in panic. Emergency laws will probably kick in, and that will impact human rights.

“The enemy here is a virus: Ebola. It’s not a person, it’s not a country, it’s not a place, it’s not a hospital. It’s a virus. It’s a virus that’s tough to fight. But together, I’m confident that we will stop it. What we need to do is all take responsibility for improving the safety of those on the front lines” — Tom Frieden, director, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, United States

WHO promises thorough self-appraisal
Geneva: The World Health Organisation promised on Saturday that it would publish a full review of its handling of the Ebola crisis once the outbreak was under control, in response to a leaked document that appeared to acknowledge the WHO had failed to do enough. The WHO said in a statement that it would not comment on the internal document cited in an Associated Press story on Friday The document, a first draft that had not been fact-checked, was “part of an on-going analysis of our response”, it said. “We cannot divert our limited resources from the urgent response to do a detailed analysis of the past response. That review will come, but only after this outbreak is over,” the organisation said.

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