Balkans take precautions against spread of Ebola


Experts warn that Ebola is a major threat to the region and could be used as a weapon by terrorists.

By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times from Skopje --18/08/14


Macedonia’s Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje has quarantine facilities in place for passengers exposed to Ebola and other infectious diseases. [AFP]

Health and airport authorities in the Balkans are taking measures to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus from Africa, where it has claimed more than 1,000 lives. Airports in Skopje, Belgrade, Sarajevo and Zagreb have readied quarantine plans as a contingency for passengers potentially exposed to the deadly virus. The Skopje airport has its own quarantine room that is always available and other suitable isolated large rooms that can be put into operation if needed.

"Given that filtering or examination of the passengers starts from the first point of departure in the country that is affected, as in the first point of arrival, Skopje airport has no direct connection with any of the west African locations where the virus appeared. However, as a precaution, it is important to develop preventive measures that are co-ordinated by the Ministry of Health of Macedonia," airport manager Nejat Kurt told SETimes.

A 51-year-old Romanian man is believed to be the first from the region with Ebola symptoms. He was taken to hospital in Bucharest after his arrival from Nigeria.

The World Health Organisation has called the Ebola outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, but last week sought to soothe the fears of air travelers, saying that air travelers are at "low-risk for Ebola transmission."


Croatia’s efforts to guard against Ebola are co-ordinated by the Crisis Centre of the Ministry of Health and the Croatian Institute for Public Health. [AFP]

Authorities in the region should strengthen co-operation to protect the public from Ebola because, like terrorism, the virus poses a threat to the security of the citizens, said Vasko Nikolovski, professor of security and terrorism at MIT University in Skopje.

"Therefore the co-operation among regional countries is significant. It means the establishment and exchange of expert teams to work on a plan to prevent and protect the region from Ebola. Prevention can be realised by preventing and neutralising terrorists who can contribute to the spread of Ebola by using biological agents in terrorist acts. Therefore, their disabling and the distraction of their intentions will reduce the percentage of the spread of Ebola in a certain way," Nikolovski told SETimes.

Airports in the region are also communicating with one another, Kurt said.

"Within this network important information is shared. The European Department for the Co-ordination of Aviation Crises, established by the European Commission, covers significant developments related to aviation," Kurt said.

Josip Jagić, spokesperson of the Croatian health ministry, said the European Commission issued an advisory in April for member states to increase supervision of travelers from countries threatened with Ebola.

"We have trained staff and laboratories, as well as protocols for dealing with highly infectious deadly pathogens and measures implemented in co-ordination with the Crisis Centre of the Ministry of Health and the Croatian Institute for Public Health, under the Law on the Protection of the Population Against Communicable Diseases, which describes activities for case of an outbreak of an epidemic," Jagić told SETimes.

Sarajevo International Airport also has adopted a plan of action in crisis situations, which is made according to the recommendations of the Civil Aviation Direction of BiH.

"This plan allows for timely and effective action of the responsible parties in resolving situations in which there are or may be affected passengers and employees. The plan is activated as soon as the control centre for air traffic gets information from the captain of the plane. After landing and parking the aircraft at an isolated parking spot, passengers will be taken to an isolation room specially designed for health crisis situations," Sabina Kovac, associate for public relations at Sarajevo airport, told SETimes.

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In Serbia, airports in Nis and Belgrade have health inspectors who can meet aircraft on the runway to control passengers coming from at-risk countries.

"At any given moment there are at least two sanitary inspectors, and due to the increased frequency of passengers at airports, their number is higher. This year sanitary inspectors in Serbia put under medical review 308 passengers, not only for the presence of Ebola but also malaria and cholera," said Zoran Nikolich, chief of border sanitary inspection.

Correspondent Kruno Kartus in Osijek contributed to this report.

What should countries in Southeast Europe do to protect citizens against the spread of Ebola and other infectious diseases? Add your thoughts in the comment area.

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