Slack swine flu screening at ZIA

Shahabul, a migrant worker returning from M alaysia, was coughing yesterday as his relatives helped him away from Zia International Airport (ZIA) after his arrival.

The 25-year-old man said he was forced to give up his job and return home after suffering from continuous fever and coughs for over three months, but on arrival at ZIA he did not report his health condition at the Airport Health Support Desk.

Shahabul wasn't even aware of the health desk set up to screen inbound passengers to prevent the entry of influenza A(H1N1), commonly known as swine flu, into the country.

Like Shahabul, many other passengers travelling back from Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia also are not aware of the necessity to report.

The government has listed 19 countries -- including Mexico, USA, Canada, United Kingdom, and India -- passengers from which have to report for screening at the airport. The list keeps getting longer every day as new suspected cases are found in different countries.

However, there is no provision for screening of patients coming in from other countries who might be carrying the virus.

"We are handing yellow forms to inbound passengers from only these 19 countries to report to the desk. Countries like Malaysia, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia are however not on this list," an on-duty health officer explained.

The banner on display inside the airport, however, says that all travellers suffering from fever or with runny noses, sneezes or coughs are to report to the Health Support Desk before immigration.

Experts warn that unless strict vigilance is kept at the entry points of the country, carriers of the virus could easily slip into the country without detection.

Prof Nazrul Islam of the department of virology at BSMMU said, "There is no guarantee that swine flu cases will never be detected in countries which don't have any reported cases today. They might discover a case tomorrow for example. Therefore it is vital that there is strict monitoring of all entering the country, especially those with flu-like symptoms."

On enquiry, the Assistant Airport Health Officer Nasrin Sultana said that the health support desk has been open since April 29 and is providing passengers with necessary information.

Immigration officers on duty at the airport, trained accordingly, are also helping out, she said, so that no passenger can leave the airport with any flu-like symptom without reporting it.

Immigration officers said they have not received any training yet. A special training session, however, has been scheduled for Saturday.

The Director of Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) Prof Mahmudur Rahman told the Daily Star yesterday that a strong role of all on duty at the airport is required to monitor the situation.

He said adequate training of immigration officers, in addition to health officials, is vital for management of the situation and also self-protection.

At a seminar at the Institute of Public Health (IPH) yesterday morning, Prof Mahmudur said epidemiological trends show that every 10 to 40 years a pandemic takes place.

He too emphasised vigilance at the entry points of the country.

"We need not panic about swine flu but take adequate precautions and preventive measures. Trained teams already keep vigil at airports, land ports and seaports -- at nine different entry points -- of the country to prevent the entry of the virus," he said.

Meanwhile, the government said that it has enough stock of Oseltamivir to treat swine flu patients, if required, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is going to provide an additonal two lakh units of Oseltamivir to tackle emergencies if such a situation arises.

WHO has already provided 5,000 masks for use in airports, land ports and seaports.

From : The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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