The recent outbreak of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of Congo has sent panic into the minds of many neighbouring countries. In this piece, ANTHONY AWUNOR writes that passengers’ screening has been reinforced, particularly at major international airports that are seen as most vulnerable points of contact.
Air passengers passing through any of the nation’s international airports recently, may have witnessed some level of surveillance on them, following renewed efforts by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to completely stop the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
Only few months ago, there was an outbreak of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each time, the outbreak is declared, neighbouring countries like Angola, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia shiver. Apart from these countries with common boundaries, countries like Nigeria, Ghana and other West African countries that share common air connectivity, also suffer the same fate with their next-door neighbours.
Int’l Airports As Vulnerable Area
The outbreak poses danger to other countries through the rapid spread through their respective land, sea and airports, which serve as gateways to virtually all the countries. Being a contagious and communicable disease, an ailment of such magnitude, experts say, can easily move from country to country through air travels and through the international airports.
In Nigeria, FAAN which is saddled with the responsibility of managing all the airports in the country, has done everything possible to see that the dreaded virus does not spread into the country, particularly through the international airports. For instance, the aviation agency has not relaxed since the first declaration of the outbreak. Even after Nigeria was declared Ebola virus free, the agency has continued to screen international passengers for high fever especially at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja and every other international airport across the country.
Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja
Speaking on the measures put in place to control the spread during a first-hand inspection of the screening process at the Abuja airport, the regional general manager, Mahmud Sani, explained that the scanning machines have been put to use since the 2014 cases and the airport never stopped the process.
Sani, who is also the airport manager further, noted that the minister of health had visited the airport for on the spot assessment.
Also speaking, the deputy general manager and head of aviation medical clinics for FAAN, Doctor Adamu Adamu, said “right now, we have public health emergency contingency plan at the airport which we have activated. We are at the alert phase now and we are looking at temperature scan, travel history basically and we have upgraded our sanitation generally at the airport in terms of toilets. We have sanitizers installed at different areas to ensure that passengers that come into Nigeria have facilities to clean up their hands and also washing facilities at the toilet. We also have public health messaging.
“We are sending out information on our PH system to the airport on how to prevent communicable diseases, hand washing and awareness that there is an ongoing Ebola outbreak outside the country and we are just trying to make sure that we don’t have an outbreak within the country. We are doing this in conjunction with Port Health Services of Ministry of health.” On the issue of detection of anyone with high temperature so far, he said, “If the scanner detects anyone, the alarm would go off. The scanners have alarm that flags off any temperature that is above the threshold that we set”, Adamu added.
According to Adamu, the alarm can also flag off if you have a phone on you and if it detects it, it will trigger and the PHS will bring out the passenger and do another screening to know if the temperature is actually real or if it’s an art factual rise.
The trigger, he said, allows the officials to do secondary check to determine if you really have fever or not, adding that, “the scanner has the capacity to capture children. The camera is about distance and it has the capacity to capture children. The camera has targets and it tracks individuals. “We have one at the International arrival and another one at the International departure. All the internationals airports in Nigeria have it presently. We have at Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano. Right now, we are focusing on international airports, we are at the alert phase and we have to prevent importation. So, the entry screening now is where we are focusing on”.
Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos
At Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), FAAN is also putting in great efforts to see that it contains the virus. Recently, the agency intensified thermal and body screening of inbound and outbound passengers at the airport as part of efforts to sensitise them on steps taken to curtail any spread of the Ebola Virus Disease.
Port Health officials with thermal scanners, now subject inbound passengers to body screening, using hand held equipment to ascertain their body temperatures. The use of the hand held scanners is in addition to the thermal scanners installed at various arrival points at the airport.
Commenting on the strategy recently, regional manager, MMIA, Mrs Victoria Shin –Aba, said an emergency contingency plan in line with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and World Health Organisation (ICAO) has been activated to ensure that any passenger with traces of any communicable disease is isolated and attended to.
She said the new arrangement where passengers are screened bodily with the prescribed scanners is carried out to convince airport users that the authority is on top of the situation. Mrs Shin -Aba said a few weeks ago, a mock exercise was carried out to prepare the relevant personnel on the procedure to adopt in the event of any outbreak of communicable disease.
She assured that FAAN would continue to stick to the public health emergency procedure to ensure that the relevant international standards are maintained. The regional manager added that sanitisers and soaps were being provided at toilets at the airport to ensure passengers maintain high level of hygiene.
Akanu Ibiam International Airport (AIIA), Enugu
Akanu Ibiam International Airport (AIIA), Enugu is also experiencing rigorous screening of passengers by FAAN officials, just like the agency does in every other international airport across the country.
Assuring air passengers that travelers passing through Enugu airport are safe, the Airport Manager of AIIA, Enugu, Mr Mgbemena Orjiako, stated that stringent measures are being taken to ensure that the virus does not spread uncontrolled.
Mgbemena added that the airport has also been able to get the cooperation of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has assisted in giving sensitisation talks with all the agencies in the airport.
According to him, the talks, which are not only centered on Ebola, also extend to other communicable diseases that are possibly moveable through the air or by means of air travel.
“You know air travel is the quickest means of moving around from continent to continent. So, if there is a contagious disease of such magnitude, it can easily move from country to country. So WHO has been here and has equally assisted us in giving talks on how to tackle it and what to watch out for and what to do to prevent the spread”, Mgbemena said.
On what the airport is doing to avoid any spread, the airport manager said that the Port Health Authority (PHA) in collaboration with other agencies at the airport, had held an emergency meeting where they carefully planned on how to forestall Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) at the airport.
He said Enugu airport was very serious on controlling the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo because international flights are coming into the airport three times a week.
Mgbemena noted that the airport had also created an area where they can take away any passenger that was discovered to have an abnormal temperature.
“That area in the arrival hall where we keep them and also check their temperature discreetly while they are coming in without their knowing. We also have sanitisers in different corners at the airport where people can wash up themselves”, he said.
According to the manager, there was always a joint monitoring of the movement of passengers into the airport every Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturday, adding that they “pay greater attention to those moving into the airport because most of them may be coming from Addis Ababa but they may be transiting from other areas of the world. So, we want to be very cautious and we don’t want anything to go wrong”.
Kano, PH Airports
Similarly, Mallam Amunu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano and Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Port Harcourt are also experiencing renewed vigour to see that the virus is kept at bay. This is done through careful thermal and body screening of all passengers coming in and going out of the international airport.
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