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Published on : Friday, October 17, 2014
The Airports Council International (ACI) World Governing Board met this past Sunday, 12 October in Durban during the 23rd Annual ACI Africa Assembly, Conference and Exhibition and discussed how best ACI can assist airports in their response to the Ebola outbreak.
The focus of international efforts remains on providing the medical response to contain and prevent the spread of the disease in affected countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) and on the exit screening controls in those countries. Although isolated cases have been reported in four other countries (Nigeria, Senegal, the US and Spain), transmission has been limited and prompt containment action has been taken.
The Board provided its full support to ACI’s ongoing collaborative efforts with the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and other stakeholders in the travel and transportation sectors.
Since the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in August of this year, ICAO has convened a special Travel and Transportation Task Force comprising ICAO, the WHO and international organizations from the aviation, maritime and travel sectors. ACI represents the global airport community in this task force, which coordinates the dissemination of information and technical guidance to these sectors.
ACI is also a founding partner in the ICAO Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA) programme, which brings together countries and industry stakeholders under a collaborative framework to build the capacity of public health agencies, airports and airlines to handle public health emergencies.
“The CAPSCA programme has been running for more than a decade, and there is a high degree of preparedness within the industry,” said Angela Gittens, Director General, ACI World. “Furthermore, the air transport industry has successfully responded to other Public Health Emergencies of International Concern in the past, including Swine Flu, Avian Influenza and SARS. As such, the industry has well established contingency plans developed with public health agencies and emergency services at international, national and local levels to respond to such events.”
The Board recognized that the current Ebola outbreak is having a very serious impact on the three affected countries and that it will take time for the international response to bring it under control. There is therefore a risk that some cases will emerge elsewhere. ACI stresses that these cases are isolated and appropriate and quick action has been taken to protect the public.
As recently communicated by ACI EUROPE, the WHO and the ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) have expressed reservations about the effectiveness of temperature screening of passengers on arrival, implemented in some US and Canadian airports and currently being contemplated by some EU countries. Indeed, the WHO does not currently recommend screening passengers at entry points. Conversely, the WHO and ECDC support exit screening of departing passengers, which has been implemented at airports in the three main affected African countries over the last two months.
“The fear of contracting Ebola greatly exceeds the actual risk, and providing factual and scientific information to the travelling public and employees in the aviation sector is vitally important,” Gittens added. “The scientific fact is that to contract Ebola one has to have direct contact with the body fluids, blood, secretions or articles contaminated with these fluids from an infected person. As a result, unless an individual has been to one of the three affected countries in West Africa and/or has been in contact with persons infected with Ebola, the risk of contracting the disease is very, very small.”
To this end, ACI has committed to providing guidance to its members on how to proactively communicate factual information on Ebola to airport workers and to suggest ways to lessen the anxiety they may have in carrying out their duties. ACI will also continue to share guidance on the contingency procedures for responding to events of this nature so that staff can gain confidence in their ability to respond properly.