Ebola fears leave nerves on edge in Southeast Asia

Governments across region preparing for the region's first case of Ebola virus

Ebola fears leave nerves on edge in Southeast Asia

World Bulletin/News Desk

More than 100 Philippine peacekeepers arrived home from Ebola-ravaged Liberia on Wednesday to spend 21 days in quarantine - a sign of the region’s nervousness over the deadly virus.

Although there have been no cases of Ebola in Southeast Asia or Asia Pacific, governments have been swift to implement preventative measures, as in the case of the 133 Philippine soldiers and police returning from a yearlong the United Nations mission.

Despite testing negative for the disease in Africa, the soldiers still face three weeks in isolation on Caballo Island before they are reunited with their families, according to local media.

"This is in compliance to our government’s drive for the country to remain Ebola virus disease free," Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang said.

Across the region, a number of suspected cases have been reported, later found to be malaria or other illness showing similar symptoms. However, the region remains free of Ebola, which has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa.

Increased controls at airports are one obvious sign of the preventative measures that have been put in place. Questionnaires ask if passengers have visited high-risk areas and thermal scanners monitor body temperatures. In Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia these have been in place for some time to check travellers for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, which is most common in Saudi Arabia - the destination of hajj pilgrims.

The thousands of guest workers working on infrastructure and other projects in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea – the three countries primarily affected by the disease - are particularly selected for attention.

Last month, two Indonesian workers returning from Liberia were tested for Ebola after they showed a fever and aching muscles, both symptoms of the disease. They were cleared and declared to have malaria, but the scare demonstrated the level of anticipation that the virus will eventually strike.

Following the suspected cases, Indonesian Health Minister Nila Moeloek appealed for people to remain vigilant. Around 150 Indonesians live in Liberia, primarily working in forestry and at sea ports.

The Philippines - which has nearly 3,800 workers based in the three affected countries - has assigned doctors to each of its international airports to deal with any suspected cases.

Meanwhile, Cambodia will closely monitor UN troops returning from the Central African Republic, which has not been hit by the current Ebola outbreak, after soldiers voiced fears about contracting the virus.

Some countries have put stricter regulations in place than others. Countries such as China and the Philippines are quarantining medical and other aid staff who have visited West Africa. In North Korea, every foreign visitor to the country is to be placed in isolation, regardless of their contact with infected countries, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported at the weekend.

In Indonesia, like other countries around the region, suspected cases of Ebola have been placed in isolation and treated according to guidelines laid down by the World Health Organization.

A number of hospitals have been prepared to treat Ebola cases.

The head of Semarang City Health Office in Indonesia, Widoyono - Many Indonesians use only one name - told The Anadolu Agency: "A number of specialized doctors, medicines and other infrastructure has been prepared in every hospital."

In the Philippines, Health Undersecretary Janette Garin summarized the country’s state of preparations: “We are not 100 percent ready but if you compare the Philippines with other countries, we are better prepared," she said.

The country’s Research Institute of Tropical Medicine’s laboratory has received a 500 million peso ($11 million) upgrade to cope with any Ebola cases and train medical staff. The institute has a 50-bed capacity, including seven negative pressure isolation rooms.

“We may lack in facilities, but we are capable of managing possible Ebola cases and we are ready to share our capabilities to other hospitals,” Institute Director Soccoro Lupisan said.

Elsewhere, Cambodia’s Communicable Disease Control Department has identified five hospitals for quarantining suspected cases with 10 doctors trained to deal directly with confirmed cases.

Ly Sovann, the department’s deputy director, said: “We were zero prepared for SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome]. We built from this and we are better prepared but we need to do more. If every country prepares, we will contain this.”

In Malaysia, where nine suspected Ebola cases have been reported since mid-October, health services have conducted simulated exercises to prepare for a confirmed case, according to Health Minister Datuk Seri.

One common feature across the region is the online rumors that have bedeviled government efforts to reassure the public.

This week the Philippine Department of Health was forced to dismiss a report that 18 Ebola patients had been confined to a hospital in Quezon City.

In Myanmar, social media users identified four people infected with the virus last week, only for health officials to denounce the reports as fabricated.

As yet, there have been few indications of the level of anxiety that led one bar in South Korean capital to put up a sign in August declaring that it was “not accepting Africans at the moment” due to Ebola.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Kasım 2014, 11:29

Muhammed Öylek