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Ebola watch

Published:Sunday | September 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica steps up screening to prevent deadly virus from reaching its shores

Karlene Brown, Sunday Gleaner Writer

Jamaica's efforts to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from reaching the country was underscored recently when a Nigerian man was detained and extensively interviewed on his arrival at the Norman Manley International Airport.

The Nigerian, whose name is being withheld, told The Sunday Gleaner that on arrival at the airport in Kingston, he was referred to a health officer, who asked him a series of questions.

According to the man, he was asked whether Ebola was prevalent in the Nigerian city he was coming from and what medical tests he had been subjected to before leaving Nigeria.

The Nigerian, who made his way to Jamaica via the United States, said he was also asked whether he had been screened upon entry to that country.

He said he was given a list of places he should report to in the event he developed any of the symptoms of Ebola before being sent on his way.

That incident came days before last Friday's quick move by the Ministry of Health to douse rumours of a suspected case of Ebola in the island.

Acting director, Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services, Dr Sonia Copeland, was pushed to point out that while Jamaica has no case of Ebola at this time, the country continues its preparation against the background of the current outbreak in West Africa.

With respect to the rumour of a case, Copeland pointed out that a patient fell ill at home and was taken to hospital. After being medically assessed, the patient did not meet the requirements to be considered a suspected case of Ebola.

"Although we have not, to date, had any suspected nor confirmed case of Ebola, our preparation activities have been heightened in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. We urge members of the public to pay close attention to information about Ebola, especially if they have to travel to any of the affected countries," declared Copeland.

In the meantime, acting permanent secretary in the health ministry, Dr Kevin Harvey, declared that the Government has implemented the WHO-agreed screening protocol for Ebola.

"The monitoring is happening from the Ebola-impacted centres. There is screening of those leaving the impacted countries before they are able to board. There is also fever surveillance, so the checking starts from that end. It's very unlikely that Ebola cases will be allowed to leave their particular countries," said Harvey.

He noted that since there are no direct flights from West Africa to Jamaica, travellers from those nations would have had additional screenings in other countries.

"From our end, we ask the immigration officers to ensure they declare their travel history on the cards so we would know whether they have travelled to one of the affected countries. On arrival, you are given a health alert card, which tells you where you can go or make contact with if you have fever or any signs of illness relating to the diseases we monitor."