By Sourabh Harihar:
First things first. Ebola is a deadly viral infection that has recently taken deep roots in the West African Countries of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The fatality rate of those affected with the virus is up to 90%. Medecins Sans Frontieres warns ‘Ebola can be caught from both humans and animals. Human to human transmission occurs through close contact with blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids of an Ebola-infected person’. Although the virus was discovered way back in 1976, there is no proper treatment or licensed preventive vaccination available as yet. If all of this is not alarming as it is, here are a few more reasons why it could snowball into a much greater problem in our country:
1. Our Airport Checks:
New York’s JFK airport just started screening its arriving passengers for possible symptoms. While it may work there and in several other airports of the developed world, it seems to be quite a feat to be putting such machinery in place at Indian airports. And while the installation is one issue, the implementation would be another greater challenge, considering the apparent laxity and unpreparedness of our immigration and customs personnel. This only means that it could be highly possible for a person who has contracted the virus to pass into the country, totally unnoticed.
2. Our Healthcare System:
First of all, the diagnosis of the disease is quite difficult, given that symptoms may surface up to 3 weeks after actually contracting the virus. Our healthcare systems are clearly not sensitised to the extent of the danger this poses. To make matters worse, most healthcare facilities in our country are not equipped with appropriate space and infrastructure to quarantine patients. This could well imply that the disease would start spreading in the very places where it’s ought to be controlled – hospitals.
3. Our Government Machinery:
In spite of the enormous threat of the disease, the most our government has done so far is to issue guidelines and a series of FAQs about Ebola (which is practically available on the web anyway) via the Minstry of Health and Family Welfare. For fear of causing panic, the government may choose to be silent about the issue. But silence, coupled with inaction, would mean inviting a national crisis, which would be even more difficult to handle later.
4. Our Communities:
The WHO says that ‘Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials and social mobilisation.’ Far from taking any of these measures, our communities would rather not discuss the issue at all until it actually comes knocking at their doorstep. And then it could be far too late.
5. Our Attitudes:
Most of our culture actually encourages secrecy about being affected by diseases that spread. To add to that, the societal apprehensions and taboos associated with such pandemics will further delay proper care and prevention. This could all culminate in dreadful outbreaks and soon, situations could run out of control.
None of these points are meant to incite panic or malign systems. They are only intended so that attention is drawn towards the grave threat the Ebola virus presents and so that awareness is spread about how our country could tackle it better.