Port health officers are warning that a lack of co-ordinated health controls at ports and airports is posing an increased risk of Ebola entering the UK, as reported in Environmental Health News, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.
The warning comes as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the world’s deadliest to date, is spreading from Guinea to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria with 2,127 reported cases resulting in 1,145 deaths.
The Association of Port Health Authorities (APHA) is warning that in the absence of any central guidance from Public Health England (PHE) port health officers, responsible for enforcing International Health Regulations and for maintaining the bio-security of UK borders, are being forced to produce their own health controls to protect ports and airports.
APHA executive board member Gary Cooper said: ‘I have spoken to port health colleagues around the country and we are concerned that we are having to do things on an ad-hoc basis and are having to pick up on guidance that has been prepared for the Border Agency and guidance for air crews, it means what we are doing throughout the UK is just not consistent.
‘We are calling for more information on preventing the disease getting into the UK. We need to adopt a consistent proportionate response for all our ports and airports and we also need controls in place to protect the health of our staff as we will be the first people to come into contact with a potential case.’
CIEH’s Head of Policy and Education, Tony Lewis, said: “Guarding against the possibility of Ebola entering the UK is hugely important to the public health of the nation and, in this respect, our colleagues and members working in port health are the frontline in providing this protection. We are deeply concerned about the apparent lack of specific advice on this issue emanating from Government and we look forward to working with Public Health England and others to quickly address this.”
A PHE spokesperson said: ‘PHE has informed medical practitioners about the situation in West Africa and requested they remain vigilant for unexplained illness in those who have visited the affected area, and actions to take in the event of a possible case.
‘In light of the ongoing outbreak, PHE will continue to liaise with Border Force and Port Health, to update guidance for staff working in airports and port, however Port Health would primarily receive briefing from local authorities.’