New Zimbabwe (London)

10 August 2014

Zimbabwe Monitoring Ebola Suspects

ZIMBABWE'S health authorities have moved to stop the deadly Ebola virus from entering the country with air travellers from affected West African countries now subjected to a 21-day health surveillance for ebola symptoms.

In an interview with NewZimbabwe.com on Sunday, Dr Portia Manangazira, director of epidemiology in the health ministry, said the process starts at Harare international airport right up to the homes of the travellers.

She said the process involves identifying and interviewing arrivals from the Ebola-affected countries, something that has irked travellers who feel inconvenienced by the unusual process.

Innocent Mayida, a Zimbabwean who flew recently from Cameroon, said he was subjected to the same treatment at both the Yaoundé and Harare airports.

"As l arrived at Harare airport," Mayida wrote on his Facebook page, "l heard an airport official saying those who have been in West Africa and visited those countries ... join this queue.

He continued: "I remember he was wearing a T-shirt scribbled ZimAsset, ' yes...quarantine' l heard faintly as they took me away."

But Manangazira defended the action which she said was now a precautionary exercise directed at all arrivals from West Africa, where the disease has killed at least 1,000 people and left even more hospitalised.

She denied the passengers were being quarantined.

"What we are doing at our main port of entry, which is Harare International Airport, is we have started screening people," she said.

"When they say that they have come from an Ebola reporting country, we get their contact details and we give them a briefing on Ebola and then we keep checking on them for about 21 days which is the incubation period for Ebola.

The surveillance process is only suspended after the authorities have satisfied themselves the suspected individuals were not carriers of the deadly virus.

Manangazira added: "At the arrivals area, we have port health officers; so while people are queuing and they are waiting for their passports to be stamped; they would just be asked a few questions.

"If someone is not coming from an Ebola reporting country or they have not passed through an Ebola reporting country, then it's a very short interview but obviously if it's an arrival from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea or Nigeria then the interview is probably going to be a bit longer.

"So they are actually taken aside and then they are released after both sides have exchanged contact details and information to say should they have any problems, where should they report.

"What we have done is to also upraise key airport personnel in terms of immigration, customs staff, airport authorities in the case of Civil Aviation Authority and then our port health team."

Steps that have been taken so far, Manangazira said, involved training health personnel from the City of Harare on how to handle suspected Ebola cases.

President Robert Mugabe has mulled the withdrawal of Zimbabwe's uniformed officers on foreign missions in Liberia in a bid to protect them from contracting the disease and bringing it back home.

The Ebola virus, described as the worst in living memory, has killed thousands in West Africa and left even more needing treatment.

Panic has gripped poorly resourced African countries yet to experience the scourge as the disease threatens to spread.

Zambia has taken sterner measures through totally barring any entry or exit to and from the affected countries.

The disease, also known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever or Ebola virus, kills up to 90% of people who are infected and often manifests in high fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, weakness, stomach pain and lack of appetite.

As the disease gets worse, it causes bleeding inside the body, as well as from the eyes, ears, and nose. Some people will vomit or cough up blood, have bloody diarrhoea, and get a rash.

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