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New Delhi: Cabinet secretary Ajit Seth on Thursday met health secretaries of 19 states to assess the country’s preparedness to deal with the Ebola virus disease, even as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that reported infections have crossed 9,000, pointing to an emerging global crisis.

All inbound passengers are being screened and protocol have been put in place, state government officials said at the meeting.

The protocol includes every state to have a designated hospital with an isolation ward. All the 19 states have airports and sea ports. The government has asked central teams to inspect the adequacy of preparations in these hospitals.

To strengthen preparedness, a programme for trainers has been organized by the health ministry on 19-21 October in Delhi. This programme will include demonstrations and mock drills. Also, the aviation ministry has been asked to make in-flight announcements regarding the Ebola virus and its symptoms.

A health screening card and advisory for passengers has been prepared and information is being collected from the passengers arriving from or through the affected countries. A control room has been set up at the health ministry to deal with these cases.

State health secretaries have been asked to maintain coordination with all ports so that ship crew are also screened.

In the meeting, some state governments said there was an urgent need to supply adequate number of personal protective gear and equipment.

About 50,000 have been procured and will be distributed to the states, according to a press release by the ministry of health and family welfare.

Thermal scanners are being deployed at different airports in the country.

“We have thorough screening and are hoping to detect cases prior to entering the country," Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said in a recent phone interview.

Till 15 October, 22,150 passengers have been screened at 18 airports on arrival, of which seven were identified to be at medium risk and 56 at high risk while the others were categorised at low risk. More than 1,000 passengers are being tracked by Integrated Disease Surveillance Project (IDSP), mostly in Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, West Bengal and Delhi. So far, more than 1,000 travellers have been identified as suspected cases.

The Ebola virus disease first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the 2014 outbreak is the worst in history as there have been more than 9,000 reported cases and 4,500 deaths as on Thursday.

Ebola spreads through direct contact with blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials contaminated with these fluids. More than 420 health workers have been infected and 235 health workers have died of Ebola, WHO said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, a second health worker who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient in the US to be diagnosed with Ebola, tested positive for the virus. With the US health authorities scrambling for answers about how the virus could have spread despite intense infection control protocol, health authorities across the world are getting increasingly worried.

Experts have voiced more concerns over Asian and African countries. In an interview with the Guardian newspaper on 4 October, Peter Piot, who discovered the virus, had said, “An outbreak in Europe or North America would quickly be brought under control. I am more worried about the many people from India who work in trade or industry in west Africa."

“It would only take one of them to become infected, travel to India to visit relatives during the virus’s incubation period, and then, once he becomes sick, go to a public hospital there," Piot had said.

“Doctors and nurses in India too often don’t wear protective gloves. They would immediately become infected and spread the virus."

Since March, the outbreak has spiralled out of control.

Last week, three cases were diagnosed outside of western Africa—two in Texas, US and one in Spain. After months of sluggish and sporadic emergency response, the new cases in America show there is no end to the contagion, as the WHO predicted that the three worst-hit countries in west Africa—Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea—could see as many as 10,000 new cases a week by early December.

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