Batswana are dicing with the risk of contracting the Ebola virus by defying travel restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Health that they should not travel to affected countries.
The Ministry of Health Deputy Permanent Secretary Shenaaz El-Halabi has confirmed that despite the country’s preparedness and measures put in place to deal with the outbreak of the Ebola disease as well as travel restrictions, Batswana still continue to travel to countries affected by the disease.
Responding to The Telegraph queries, the Deputy Permanent Secretary said for the record let me state that we have seen a significant reduction in the number of arrivals of Batswana from Ebola affected countries particularly Nigeria. “So many have taken heed of the messages but there are still a few who haven’t,” said El-Halabi.
She said Batswana who have travelled despite travel advice to Ebola affected countries go through a risk assessment and temperatures are taken. she added that to date, none have qualified for isolation.
“They are however expected to report to their nearest health facility every day for the next 3 days for re-evaluation and then once every week for the next 3 weeks,” she said.
El-Halabi said if Botswana was to have confirmed cases then a public health emergency can be declared to enforce isolation by law.
“However we are still within our limits outside this Act to quarantine someone suspected of having contracted Ebola,” she said.
African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Zuma has appealed to countries in the continent to lift the travel restrictions since they are likely to fuel the use of illegal means to travel to affected countries without undergoing screening process.
El-Halabi said the actions so far put in place by her Ministry are consistent with the provisions in the Public Health Act, and also the International Health Regulations in respect of protecting Batswana from the risk of exposure to infectious diseases.
“We understand and respect decisions by the AU and other international statutory bodies like it on such issues, but the ultimate responsibility of protecting the public health of Batswana lies with the Government of Botswana,” she said.
El-Halabi said the MoH has deployed health officers and medical personnel at all international airports to screen travellers and their documents as part of our preparedness plan to prevent importation of Ebola and other infectious diseases.┬á
“Periodic patrol to none-gazetted ports of entry is being conducted to assess expected shift of traffic to these points and address emerging issues,” said El-Halabi.
On concerns that there are some Democratic Republic of Congo ┬ánationals who are trading in fish from Lake Ngami in the Ngamiland District, and whether ┬áthey are not putting Botswana at risk, El-Halabi said “the fish business issue in Ngami has been considered.”
“Most of the fish is bought by Zambians who in turn take them home and trade it with the DRC across their borders. Of course DRC nationals are currently not allowed into Botswana and the ban is still in place. Our teams have visited Ngami and the fish market around Lake Ngami to assess this. We keep monitoring the market and if in the future further action needs to be taken, that will be considered,” she said.
She urged the general public to be on alert at all times to the issues of Ebola. “Ebola may be a deadly disease but it can be prevented. Currently information on Ebola is being communicated to the public through various media, and the public is advised to heed to any prevention advice from the MoH. Our lives are at stake and we all as Batswana must join the international community to fight this disease that is threatening to change the course of history in public health,” said El-Halabi.