The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has announced a joint task force to target the spread of Ebola from Western Africa.
In partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), ICAO affirmed the task force will ‘support the global efforts to contain the spread of the disease and provide a coordinated international response for the travel and tourism sector’.
ICAO added that the task force will also ‘monitor the situation and provide timely information to the travel and tourism sector as well as to travellers’.
ICAO has asked all affected countries to conduct exit screening of all travellers at international airports for symptoms consistent with a potential Ebola infection, with any potential cases banned from travel unless medical evacuation is necessary.
It has also asked non-affected countries to ‘strengthen the capacity to detect and immediately contain new cases, while avoiding measures that will create unnecessary interference with international travel or trade’.
While the current outbreak of Ebola now includes cases in Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, its origins can be traced back to Guinea as early as December 2013. However it wasn’t until 8 August 2014 that the WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern.
To date, the WHO reports that the virus has infected 2127 people, with 1145 confirmed deaths. Despite this, Ebola remains a relatively difficult virus to catch, requiring direct contact with blood, body fluids or tissue for transmission.
ICAO advises that while contracting Ebola during air travel is rare, travellers are advised to ‘avoid all such contacts and routinely practise careful hygiene, like hand washing’.
While the risk of the rapid spread of infectious diseases is often linked with aviation the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) rejects the popular notion that contracting an infectious disease during air travel is a common occurrence – pointing out that ‘the available evidence suggests otherwise’.