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Ebola drives Indian firm to evacuate staff from Liberia

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 27 Aug 2014 06:29 GMT
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A Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) health worker stands outside an isolation unit at ELWA hospital, in Monrovia, on August 23, 2014. REUTERS/2Tango
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NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than 100 Indians working for a construction firm in Ebola-hit Liberia are being evacuated to India because of fears they could catch the deadly disease, government and airport authorities said.

The health ministry said 112 Indian and four Nepalese nationals working for Indian firm Afcons International Ltd were being flown back to India on Tuesday with the help of International SOS, a medical and travel security services firm.

"Senior officers of the ministry have been pre-positioned at Mumbai and Delhi Airports to monitor the screening of passengers from Liberia," a health ministry statement said late on Tuesday.

"They have all been screened and found healthy. No passenger has been isolated. The rest of the persons are expected to arrive late in the evening."

Officials from Afcons International and International SOS were not immediately available for comment.

At least 1,427 people have died and 2,615 have been infected since the disease was detected deep in the forests of southeastern Guinea in March.

The epidemic of the highly contagious haemorrhagic fever has struck Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. A separate outbreak has been confirmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Indian authorities are on alert for Ebola, fearing the virus could be brought into the country by those among the nearly 45,000 Indians living in the four West African countries who come home.

Television crews and media teams swamped both Delhi and Mumbai airports on Tuesday, giving minute-by-minute reports on the screening of passengers arriving on seven flights from the affected region.

"Even though developed countries are not screening passengers arriving from Ebola-affected countries, as a matter of abundant caution screening for passengers from affected countries has been put into practice by the government of India," the health ministry said.

Travellers arriving in India from West Africa who display symptoms such as fever and vomiting are considered high risk and are being isolated at the airport and having blood tests, it said.

Those reporting a history of contact with an Ebola case are 'medium risk' and are being tracked by local authorities, while those without symptoms and no contact history are 'low risk'.

Local authorities have been asked to organise rigorous tracking and monitoring of these passengers, and to follow up on passengers daily.

The World Health Organization (WHO) praised India last week for making active preparations for an Ebola outbreak, though it said the risk of Ebola being brought into India was low.

WHO officials said, however, that authorities needed to improve the tracking and surveillance of travellers and to raise public awareness about the virus.

(Editing by Tim Pearce, timothy.pearce@thomsonreuters.com)

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