Thais join worldwide move to declare disease out of control, spreading
Thai authorities are preparing to declare Ebola a dangerous contagion with worldwide implications, as the World Health Organisation has called the epidemic that has claimed nearly 1,000 lives a global health crisis.
Thai health officials are closely monitoring the virus outbreak in Africa and putting measures in place to detect its possible spread into Asia, Public Health Ministry permanent secretary Dr Narong Sahamethapat said yesterday.
The ministry is preparing to declare Ebola a dangerous contagion that requires expertise of the relevant state agencies in properly handling the patients. Ebola will be the sixth disease of this kind after cholera, yellow fever, plague, smallpox and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), the National News Bureau of Thailand (NNT) reported yesterday.
The Public Health Ministry has started a surveillance programme at airports to monitor the arrivals of travellers from affected countries. Officials will apply the same standard of disease screening as those used with avian flu and Sars, and maintaining readiness at state hospitals across the country, the NNT reported.
In Geneva, the WHO stopped short of recommending a general travel and trade ban. It said only that infected people should not cross borders except as part of an official medical evacuation.
The Geneva-based United Nations health agency said affected countries should work with airlines to ensure proper care for crews based there and enable quick identification of passengers who may have had contact with infected people.
“The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus,” the WHO said in a statement.
“A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola.”
The WHO appealed for international aid to help afflicted countries after a rare meeting of the UN health body's emergency committee, which urged screening of all people flying out of affected countries in west Africa.
And it called on countries around the globe to be prepared to “detect, investigate and manage” Ebola cases if they should arise.
WHO director-general Margaret Chan appealed for greater help for those worst hit by the “largest, most severe and most complex outbreak in the nearly four-decade history of this disease”.
“I am declaring the current outbreak a public health emergency of international concern,” Chan said, warning of the “serious and unusual nature of the outbreak and the potential for further international spread”.
States of emergency had already been declared in the hardest hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria became the latest on Friday.
The Ivory Coast, which neighbours Guinea and Liberia, said it was declaring a “very high” level of alert, while Benin is also investigating a suspect patient.
In the first European case, Spain is treating an elderly priest who contracted the disease while helping patients in Liberia.
Defining the epidemic a public health emergency of international concern – a label only used twice before, during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009 and last May for the re-emergence of polio – “alerts the world to the need for high vigilance”, Chan said.
Ebola had by Wednesday claimed at least 961 lives and infected nearly 1,800 people since breaking out in Guinea earlier this year, with 29 people dying in just two days, the WHO said.
“The likelihood is that it will get worse before it gets better,” WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said, with the outbreak likely to last for months.
There is no proven treatment or cure for Ebola and use of experimental drug has sparked an ethical debate.