A veteran lawmaker has deplored the seeming laxity in the screening for Ebola of arriving passengers in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport or NAIA despite the alarming spread of the deadly virus that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 people.
Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian received reports over the weekend that screening of arriving passengers in NAIA Terminal 3 was “very lax” and airport screeners also do not wear protective gear contrary to practices abroad.
Gatchalian said arriving passengers are only asked to fill out a small one-page yellow questionnaire, in which they have to indicate if they have symptoms related to Ebola, their flight number, and their contact details.
“Airport screeners who are supposed to be personnel of the Department of Health do not even bother to check each questionnaire before allowing the concerned passenger to proceed to the immigration area,” Gatchalian said.
“There was no visible station for medical professionals who can more extensively assess the health condition of a passenger who is considered a risk,” he added.
The lawmaker also noted the absence in NAIA 3 of a temperature-measuring device, which is already being used in the US and other countries and was first used at the NAIA at the height of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2001.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), fever is “often a sign that the body is fighting a disease that could be infectious,” and for Ebola, a fever reaching at least 38.6°C is “significant” compared to the normal body temperature of 37°C.
“There are basic preventive steps that the DOH and airport officials can do to delay, if not completely prevent, the spread of Ebola in the country. Even if the WHO said exit screening ‘cannot be 100 percent effective against international transmission’ as there are ways to get around such measures, there is still no excuse not to implement them,” he said.
“Exit screening does not only protect our citizens but it also quells public anxiety. This in turn allows concerned government agencies to strategize and allocate financial and manpower resources to critical countermeasures,” he noted.
Gatchalian said it is already alarming that the Ebola has already spread to countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and Australia and it is not remote that the deadly virus can also find its way to the Philippines. (Monica Cantilero)