Barbados and St. Lucia on Ebola alert

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At least two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have responded to a warning by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) that  regional countries should seek to enhance disease surveillance at ports of entry and at health facilities following the categorisation of the current outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) as a public health emergency.

St. Lucia and Barbados have both indicated that steps are being taken to ensure that their populations are not put at risk for the disease the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The WHO statement was in reference to the current EVD outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

St. Lucia’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Merlene Fredericks-James says while the risk of getting a case of Ebola is extremely low here,  the possibility of being affected exists, regardless of how low it may be.

“Though the outbreak continues in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organisation has indicated that at this point in time it is not necessary for countries that are far away – such as countries in the Caribbean, to implement excessive screening measures at their ports,” Fredericks-James stated in a statement made available to the media.

She recalled that during the last Ebola ‘scare’ St. Lucia had implemented screening measures at its ports. But she disclosed that the measure is not indicated at this point in time, adding also that the WHO has advised that there should be no hindrance to trade or travel.

“Certainly not for countries as far away as ours,” Dr. Fredericks-James said, noting that countries near the DRC or which share land borders with the African nation would need screening measures for persons crossing the borders into or out of that country.

“At the Ministry of Health level we have raised the alert. We have informed our stakeholders and we have meetings planned to inform persons at the national level as well. We have a National Health Security Committee which should be meeting very soon to discuss the threat,” she said.

Fredericks-James also revealed that St. Lucia has reactivated its Ebola preparedness plans and will continue sensitizing persons and monitoring the situation.

The deadly Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. It spreads to people through direct contact with bodily fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from the disease.

Meanwhile, in Barbados, the Ministry of Health and Wellness said it is reviewing and updating its Ebola Plan to ensure that authorities are able to respond effectively, if the need arises.

In a statement the Ministry said that Minister of Health and Wellness, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic, had met with the Ministry’s senior officials as well as representatives of the Bridgetown Port, the Grantley Adams International Airport and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to review the status of preparedness.

The Ministry has assured the public that it will continue to take steps to strengthen its level of preparedness and these measures would inform the revision of the Ebola Plan.