PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Tuesday November 4, 2014, CMC – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders have ended a three-hour special summit here on Tuesday agreeing to a 10-point plan to deal with the outbreak of the Chikunguyna virus and any possible incident of the deadly Ebola virus that has killed nearly 5,000 people in West Africa.
“Heads of government expressed considerable concern, not just in relation to the possible health impact of the Ebola virus disease (EVD), but also about the disruption a single case could cause in the economic and social life of the region,” CARICOM Chairman Gaston Browne told a news conference.
Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said the regional leaders had also emphasised that the response to the diseases “must be a Community effort” and that “no member state of CARICOM must battle these public health challenges on its own”.
Browne told reporters the region’s responses to the two public health challenges are being coordinated by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and that the meeting here accepted that the likelihood of “penetration of the Ebola virus in the region is low, based on the low level of traffic from affected areas.
He added that while there have been no reported cases of EVD in the region, the 17th special meeting of regional leaders “urged the strengthening of the regional public health capacity to confront the possibility of an outbreak of Ebola and any other future public health challenges”.
The regional leaders received a presentation from St. Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas, who has lead responsibility for health within the quasi-CARICOM cabinet, and also endorsed the measures taken so far by CARPHA, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the government of Cuba “to establish and strengthen regional capabilities to confront Ebola.
According to the 10-point plan adopted by the regional leaders, under the theme “Stop Ebola There and Here”, there was need to strengthen effective, coordinated measures at ports of entry to prevent Ebola from entering the region, including harmonising travel restrictions.
The leaders also agreed to strengthen health systems including training, equipment, laboratories and containment, and to enlist the participation of airlines in the region in transporting specimens and response teams.
In addition, they have agreed to create a Regional Rapid Response Team (CARIB REACT) that is able to reach any member state in 24 hours to support the national response team to contain and stop the outbreak early on, as well as launch an intensive public education campaign for visitors and citizens of the region.
The leaders have also agreed under the 10-point plan to organise a comprehensive resource mobilisation effort including a possible “Stop Ebola There (SETH) Fund” to which governments, citizens and businesses here and abroad may donate.
Another decision was to finalise and implement the harmonised regional operational response plan by mid-November, coordinated with national response plans.
Prime Minister Browne said the meeting had also agreed on establishing a regional coordinating mechanism with CARPHA as chair, including the OECS and CARICOM Secretariats, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Agency (CDEMA) as well as the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) to report to the Lead Head government on Health “with the immediate responsibility to develop a comprehensive regional strategy to address Ebola preparedness in collaboration with PAHO and the World Health Organization(WHO)”. Cuba will also be invited to join that grouping.
He said that PAHO.WHO, the United Nations, development partners and other contributors would also be invited to a meeting within one month “to expand the effectiveness of our collective response” and that the annual summit as well as the inter-sessional summit would be used to “review and reinforce the effectiveness of these measures”.
The meeting also mandated CARPHA to complete the national assessments in collaborations with the international development parters and to develop a more comprehensive estimate of the resource requirements of the region to support an enhanced resource mobilisation plan.
Browne said as it regards the Chikunguyna virus, the meeting was told that as of October 27, 23 of the 24 CARPHA member states had reported cases of the disease spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito.
The leaders were told that regional countries were working along with the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and French Institute Pasteur to control the epidemic.
“However spread has continued with temporary economic disruption in some countries,” Browne said, adding that the regional leaders had also adopted a four-point plan to deal with the virus.
He said the leaders had agreed that there must be a multi-sectoral approach to fighting the disease that would include education, tourism, media, local government and other sectors and capabilities, including private enterprises and exploration of the use of new technologies.
In addition, the leaders agreed that “there must be a well-coordinated, continuous public education campaign on how the disease is spread, targeting the citizenry, travellers and tourism stakeholders”.
Browne stated there was also agreement on strengthening the vector control response capacity and the facilitation by PAHO/WHO of bulk purchasing of essential public health supplies, such as beds, nets, insecticides and repellent.
“The Heads of government also mandated a partnership among CARPHA, CARICOM Secretariat, PAHO/WHO to establish an annual Caribbean Mosquito Awareness Week to facilitate education and vector control,” Browne said.