NEW DELHI: India is keeping a close watch on inbound travellers, fearing import of a new respiratory virus that is being seen as a potential global threat and belongs to the same family as the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Friday said that the government and the Integrated Disease Surveillance Project have been keeping a close watch on this virus.
He said there are 21 ports of entry — 10 port health, 10 airport health and one land border health unit — which have been alerted to prevent and control the spread of communicable diseases such as this.
According to Azad, the World Health Organization (WHO) has instructed India against screening at point of entry as "the current understanding of this novel virus is that it does not appear to transmit easily between people". He added that the government has prepared a plan of action for 23 new ports of entry with health units for strengthening surveillance.
Surveillance against dangerous global pathogens, capable of being brought by international passengers, has been low in India. The country has 25 airports, 12 ports and seven international land borders catering to international traffic. Health units, however, exist only at 21 points — most of which were established way back in 1950.
Health ministry data shows 31 dangerous viruses have till now spread across the world and caused outbreaks through international travel.
Union health secretary P K Pradhan had told TOI earlier that by 2014, India plans to have health units in all its airports, ports and land borders. "This was a WHO requirement for all its member countries under the international health regulations. The deadline was originally till the end of 2012, which has been extended by a year," Pradhan had told TOI.