Monkeypox spread: Airport staff directed to accelerate screening of passengers

The Ministry of Health has directed authorities to speed up the process of screening passengers at airports, and set up isolation wards in hospitals to curtail the spread of monkeypox disease.

The ministry announced that 87,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported globally so far. Globally, 119 deaths have been reported in various countries due to the virus.

In Pakistan, 22 samples of suspected cases have been referred to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Islamabad since May 2022.

The first case of monkeypox in Pakistan has been confirmed by the NIH among travelers returning to Pakistan. The passengers had recently returned and have been isolated at the PIMS Hospital, the ministry said.

Sources said one of the two likely patients of monkeypox is under treatment at PIMS hospital where a dedicated isolation ward has been established.

The spokesperson of the ministry, however, claimed there is still no evidence of local transmission of the disease in Pakistan. He said the risk of international spread of the monkeypox disease in Pakistan is low.

The authorities concerned have been ordered to improve screening of passengers at airports.

However, sources said the issue has not moved beyond documentation, as the Islamabad airport employees have not been provided any safety equipment.

The guidelines of the health department could also not be implemented for screening passengers, the sources further said.

At the Karachi airport, however, the screening of passengers has started, as health teams deputed there are checking arms and hands of passengers arriving from abroad.

The medical staff is passing the passenger through a scanning machine after confirming suspicions of the disease, the sources said.

Similar measures are being adopted at the hospitals of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where a high alert has been issued.

Isolation wards in Punjab hospitals

Meanwhile, in view of the possible spread of monkeypox across Punjab, including Lahore, the Punjab Health Department has decided to establish isolation wards in all hospitals.

Relevant instructions have been issued to hospitals in Punjab, including Lahore, and they have been asked to furnish a report of all suspected cases of the disease.

Punjab Health Minister Javed Akram has said all hospitals will ensure isolation facility for suspected cases.

In the emergency meeting on monkeypox, the Punjab Technical Working Group will submit a report.

The meeting decided to test passengers of the flight that reported cases of monkeypox. All the passengers and crew members based in Punjab will undergo PCR tests.

Passengers will be screened for monkeypox at airports across Punjab by health department teams, the meeting decided.

Special isolation wards will be established at the General Hospital in Lahore.

Sindh hospitals on high alert

On the other hand, the Sindh government has also issued a notification regarding the disease, after two cases of monkeypox were reported in Pakistan.

Separate wards will be set up in all the hospitals for monkeypox, as per the notification. It further said that a separate isolation ward will be spared for monkeypox symptoms.

The health secretary said a rapid response team will be formed at the district level for monkeypox.

The airport staff, and officials of the FIA and other departments deputed at the airport have started using masks and gloves. Disinfection spraying is also being carried out in different parts of the airport.

Aircraft will also be sprayed on presence of suspected patients of monkeypox.

Meanwhile, despite the advisory, screening measures have not been initiated at ports. The Karachi Port Trust claims passenger ships do not dock to ports, while the crew of cargo ships already undergoes health screening.

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