India opens 24-hour helpline to fight Ebola threat

The union ministry of health today opened a 24-hour `emergency operation centre', after the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday officially declared the outbreak of Ebola disease virus (EVD) in some West African nations as the ''most complex outbreak leading to public health emergency''.

Ebola centreThe emergency centre, with helpline numbers (011)-2306 1469, 3205 and 1302, is operational from today (9 August).

In New Delhi, the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital has been identified for treatment and management of any case of EVD, union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said

The minister said the government had, in fact, started taking steps ahead of the WHO declaration. ''There is no cause for panic. We have put in operation the most advanced surveillance and tracking systems,'' he announced.

He said there was no reported case in India and one traveller, who landed in New Delhi on 20 July and was confirmed by the WHO as a case of EVD, was found to be healthy. He had been traced to Dwarka in south-west Delhi.

He has been provided with all necessary guidelines for self-monitoring and asked to report to the authorities in case of manifestation of symptoms, he added.

He said the government has worked out a mechanism in consultation with the ministries of civil aviation and home affairs for collection and collation of information on travellers to India through the affected countries.

Air passengers will be made to mandatorily declare through health cards their movement in the recent past and their addresses in India.

The database thus developed would help in the tracking of people who later develop symptoms.

Surveillance is being strengthened at airports and ports. The Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) is on alert. The National Institute of Virology, Pune and National Centre for Disease Control in Delhi are prepared to test samples for diagnosis, he said.

In addition, the estimated 47,000 Indians in the affected countries are being contacted by the Indian missions and supplied all instructional material so as to create awareness about prevention and self-reporting measures.

He said the ministry of health and family welfare is working in close coordination with the state governments to implement its action plan. The chief secretaries of all states have been informed on the need for strengthening their own tracking, surveillance and isolation facilities, he added.

Till 4 August, the WHO said, 1,711 people have been infected, of whom 932 have died. The four countries affected most by the virus are Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has warned of a prolonged crisis with the unprecedented scale of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

''It will be a long and hard fight,'' CDC director Dr Tom Frieden told a congressional committee on Thursday.

CDC is sending more workers into the affected countries to help countries affected by the Ebola outbreak.

In his prepared testimony, he estimated it would take at least three to six months to end the outbreak, under what he called a best-case scenario.

Frieden said the outbreak, which began in March, has sickened more than 1,700 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria and nearly 1,000 have died.

It is unprecedented in part because it's in a region of Africa that never has dealt with Ebola before and has particularly weak health systems, he added.