Malaysia still safe from Ebola, says medical association

PHOTO: Malaysia still safe from Ebola, says medical association

PETALING JAYA - Malaysia is still safe from the deadly Ebola virus as there are no direct flights between Malaysia and the affected countries, said Malaysian Medical Association president Dr H. Krishna Kumar.

The current 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak, which started in March, is considered one of the most severe, affecting Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

So far, 729 individuals, or 55 per cent of those infected have died from the disease.

"The fastest way that infectious diseases spread is when people fly. As there are no direct flights between Malaysia and the affected states, we are indirectly safe.

"The countries with direct flights to West Africa need to be extra careful as anyone coming from an area of infectious disease can be affected," said Dr Krishna.

However, there are still flights between Malaysia and affected countries which connect through Britain and other international hubs.

"Because we have an indirect buffer, we are relatively safe in that manner.

"When flights land in the Britain, the passengers would have already been screened. Usually, if someone flies through developed countries the safety measures are better. However, if they fly through a third world nation, the precautionary measures might not be as good," he added.

Dr Krishna said should the situation escalate, the World Health Organisation (WHO) would inform Malaysia of safety risks.

At that point, not only airports would be screened, but all ports of entry including land and sea would also be monitored.

Dr Krishna said that the Health Ministry had measures in place to address the spread of the disease if the situation worsened.

"When there is an alert, the Health Ministry will cover all ports of entry. The main hospital in charge of infectious diseases is Sungai Buloh hospital but we have specialists in most big hospitals.

"If need be, we can always isolate areas and take appropriate action," he explained.

Dr Krishna added that Malaysia's experience with previous contagious disease had also helped it prepare for potential outbreaks.

"During the Japanese encephalitis (JE) outbreak, we were not ready because we did not know how to manage the situation then.

"Now, we have learned to mobilise the people and make treatments safer," said Dr Kumar, who added that Malaysia's managing of the SARS and H1N1 viruses were also teaching points.

On Friday, US citizen Patrick Sawyer contracted the disease on a visit to Liberia.

He developed symptoms mid-flight and passed away after arriving in Lagos, Nigeria. His death sparked worries across the world of the virus' potential to be transmitted internationally via flights in and out of affected nations.

Malaysia's Disease Control Division of the Health Ministry also issued a travel advisory on April 23, urging Malaysians in EVD affected countries to exercise caution while travelling.