Ebola: UN health agency requests exit screening of travellers leaving affected countries

UNICEF assisted the Liberian government and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to complete an expansion of the ELWA Ebola Treatment Centre outside Monrovia, creating the largest such facility in history. Photo: UNICEF Liberia/2014/Ajallanzo

18 August 2014 – The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today said any persons with an illness consistent with Ebola should not be allowed to travel by air, sea or land from affected countries unless it is part of a medical evacuation, as it also expressed concern over the threats and harassment of health workers in West African countries developing into a “worry element.”

“Doctors, nurses and other health workers must be allowed to carry out their life-saving humanitarian work free of threat of violence and insecurity,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan in a statement issued a day before World Humanitarian Day 2014.

Threats and harassment of health workers in West African countries have also been a worrying element of the Ebola virus disease outbreak, WHO said. “These professionals are taking personal risks to provide critical medical care, but have been threatened, shunned and stigmatized.”

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has scheduled to meet with his Senior Coordinator on Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Dr. David Nabarro arriving from Geneva. He is scheduled to speak to reporters at UN Headquarters tomorrow afternoon.

As the number of cases reported by WHO as of 13 August reached 2,127 in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, with a total of 1,145 deaths, the UN health agency today issued another update on travel and transport.

“Affected countries are requested to conduct exit screening of all persons at international airports, seaports and major land crossings, for unexplained febrile illness consistent with potential Ebola infection,” the update said.

“Any person with an illness consistent with EVD should not be allowed to travel unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation. There should be no international travel of Ebola contacts or cases, unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation.”

WHO repeated that it “does not recommend any ban on international travel or trade, in accordance with advice from the WHO Ebola Emergency Committee,” adding that the risk of a traveller becoming infected with the Ebola virus during a visit to the affected countries and developing disease after returning is very low.

The health agency said in order to support the global efforts to contain the spread of the disease and provide a coordinated international response for the travel and tourism sector, the heads of WHO, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Airports Council International (ACI), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) decided to activate a Travel and Transport Task Force to monitor the situation and provide timely information to the travel and tourism sector as well as to travellers.

The current Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak is believed to have begun in Guinea in December 2013. This outbreak now involves community transmission in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and recently an ill traveller from Liberia infected a small number of people in Nigeria with whom he had direct contact.

The risk of transmission of Ebola virus disease during air travel is low. Unlike infections such as influenza or tuberculosis, Ebola is not spread by breathing air (and the airborne particles it contains) from an infected person. Transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals, all unlikely exposures for the average traveller.

WHO also appealed for countries to provide their citizens traveling to Ebola-affected countries with accurate and relevant information on the Ebola outbreak and measures to reduce the risk of exposure.

On tomorrow’s World Humanitarian Day, celebrated every 19 August, in addition to the Ebola-affected countries, WHO will draw attention to the continued trend of attacks on health-care workers, hospitals, clinics and ambulances in Syria, Gaza, Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan and other areas.


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