By Olive Burrows
NAIROBI (Capital News) – International pressure is mounting on Kenya to resume flights to West Africa with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the East African Community Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency (CASSOA) saying the risk of Ebola transmission via air travel is minimal.
The WHO Africa Director Luis Gomes Sambo and ICAO East and Southern Africa Director Prosper Minto’o, speaking at a regional meeting on Ebola, said the suspension of flights to West Africa only served to hamper humanitarian efforts.
“And this position has been reiterated jointly by the WHO, ICAO, SADC and ECOWAS Ministers of Health and more recently by the Executive Council of the African Union,” Sambo said.
But despite appending his signature to a joint EAC communiqué that committed to, “ensure compliance with the recommendation and AU decision on travel and trade restrictions,” Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said it did not translate to an immediate resumption of flights to West Africa.
“Ebola has not been contained. I think for the next six months it will be a big challenge. The figure that came from WHO was talking about maybe 20,000 cases of infection and so we have to remain vigilant,” he said.
Transport Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau however appeared to take a different position from Macharia, underscoring the WHO, ICAO and CASSOA statements that the risk of Ebola transmission via air travel was minimal.
“The chances of anybody travelling when he has developed the symptoms are almost zero,” he said, adding that Kenya Airways was paying a high price for the decision to close the country’s borders to persons from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
And he blamed the media for creating the panic that led to the suspended flights.
Macharia however insisted that Kenya would only consider resuming the flights once it was satisfied that the outbreak in the three countries had been contained and that the screening they were conducting at their points of exit was up to scratch.
“We haven’t suspended flights to Nigeria,” he pointed out. “Because despite their high population they have the situation under control.”