Peacekeepers returning from some disease-hit countries avoid airport health desk

- Arjun Poudel, Kathmandu

Jun 21, 2019-

A few months ago, a Nepal Army official who suffered from high fever was admitted to a private hospital in Kathmandu. The doctor at the hospital who took the patient's history found that the Army man had recently returned from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in a West African country.

Doctors were concerned, as Ebola virus was making headlines and the patient had served in the country where cases of the deadly disease were being reported.

The hospital staff informed the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division under the Department of Health Services about the case.

Officials at the division informed the World Health Organisation’s country office Nepal and other agencies concerned.

Samples collected from the patient were sent abroad for tests.

“Laboratory tests were negative,” Dr Bibek Kumar Lal, director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division under the Department of Health Services, told the Post.

“It was alarming because we are not prepared to handle the situation when it comes to Ebola virus.”

Security personnel, especially those from the Nepal Army, usually do not pass through the health desk set up at the Tribhuvan International Airport.

“The Nepal Army does not use the route used by regular passengers,” Gopal Prasad Pandey, a health worker at the airport health desk, told the Post. “Army personnel use a different route for entry and exit.”

The health desk was set up as per the instructions of the World Health Organisation following an outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo among other West African countries, where hundreds of Nepali security personnel have been deployed in peacekeeping missions.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 896 Nepal Army personnel, military observers and staff officers have been currently serving in the UN peacekeeping mission, where over 2,000 people have been infected since and around 1,400 have died of the virus, according to the BBC.

The WHO says it is the second largest Ebola outbreak ever.

“We cannot write directly to the Nepal Army requesting them to comply with the health desk regulation,” said Lal. “But I do not understand what is wrong in following the rules of the country.”

According to Lal, his office has been collaborating with security agencies, including the Army.

The division provides anti-mosquito net for the Army units deployed in malaria-prone districts and national parks.

Security agencies help the division carry out the dengue search and destroy drive.

Security personnel, who get infected with malaria and other diseases while serving in the UN peacekeeping missions, are treated in Nepal.

Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey, spokesperson for the Nepal Army, agreed that the Army personnel do not use health desk services and that they use a different route while going for and returning from peacekeeping missions.

“We do not have any problem using the airport health desk, but we do not use regular immigration route while going to or returning from peace missions,” said Pandey.

He said that Army personnel who take regular flights, however, use the health desk.

The Army used to quarantine its officials and personnel returning from Ebola-hit countries for five weeks in the past but it stopped the practice after a decline in the risk of infections.

On recent reports of Ebola infections, Pandey said that Nepal Army personnel have not been deployed in the area where the virus has been confirmed. The UN too has not declared an epidemic in the area where the Nepal Army is serving, he said.

“We conduct blood tests of the personnel who return from peacekeeping missions and send the report to the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division,” he said.

Ebola is a deadly viral disease which spreads to people through direct contact with bodily fluids of infected people. As the virus spreads through the body, it damages the immune system and organs. Ultimately, it causes levels of blood-clotting cells to drop. This leads to severe, uncontrollable bleeding.

The disease was known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever but is now referred to as Ebola virus. It kills up to 90 percent of those infected.

Public health experts say that the risk of spread of contagious viral diseases--Ebola virus disease and others--is still high, more so, since hundreds of security personnel and officers of Nepal Army, and Armed Police Force and Nepal Police are still serving in the disease-hit countries.

Published: 21-06-2019 07:53

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