It is a virus for which there is no vaccine available and there is no known cure at all. It was, therefore, a no-brainer that the spotlight was on the screening systems at the airports on Tuesday when 114 Indian nationals were expected to land from the Ebola virus-hit Liberia.
Till 5 pm, 66 of them had landed in Mumbai and 13 in Delhi. There were two batches in Mumbai - first 20, and then 46. All were cleared by the Airport Health Office team under the supervision of the authorities from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and no passenger had to be isolated. In Mumbai, apart from these, there were 19 other passengers from Nigeria, and they were also screened and cleared.
It is a serious disease and as the World Health Organization (WHO) points out: The Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe, often fatal illness in humans. Its outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90 per cent. The outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. Most importantly, the virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. Moreover, severely ill patients require intensive supportive care.
For the moment, the focus in India is largely to screen people entering the country from the airports and ports, mainly from Africa. It is largely on self-reporting by passengers travelling to India, followed by screening.
On the number of Indian nationals who could return back home from some African regions, Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Health and Family Welfare, had said in Parliament on August 6 (according to a release), "There are about 4,700 Indians in the Republic of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from where maximum cases are reported. The number in each of these countries is 500, 3,000 and 1,200, respectively.
The figure for Liberia includes about 300 personnel from the (Indian) Central Reserve Police Force, comprising largely women, as part of the UN Peacekeeping operations. Nigeria has a much larger presence of nearly 40,000 Indian citizens... If the situation worsens in the affected countries, there could be possibility of these Indians travelling back to India."
So, what is stopping Indian companies from working on a vaccine for this?
"It is a question of priority of resources. With more pressing needs for diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, pneumonia and meningitis, the companies tend to focus on them more than on Ebola, which occurs in isolated outbreaks and does not occur routinely unlike, say, pneumonia or meningitis," says Dr Prasad Kulkarni, Medical Director at the Serum Institute of India, Pune.