CARICOM Chairman defends ban on nationals from Ebola affected West African countries

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Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne (File photo)

Anika Kentish

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Tuesday October 21, 2014, CMC – Prime Minister Gaston Browne Monday defended the decision by a number of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to impose a travel ban on nationals from three West African countries because of the deadly Ebola virus that has killed nearly 5,000 people.

Browne, who is also the CARICOM chairman, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) just before boarding a plane for London that “the restriction is necessary”.

“Even if we end up with a single case of Ebola, it has serious consequences for our tourism product. Most of our countries are dependent on tourism and I can assure you that if any of our respective countries has a single case of Ebola then you can see potentially maybe a 30 to 50 per cent drop in tourism. That means immense hardship for our people.”

Several Caribbean countries including Antigua & Barbuda, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia and Suriname have implemented restrictions on passengers travelling from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone as a result of the virus for which there is no known cure.

Browne said CARICOM states need to go the extra mile to ensure that the virus is proactively managed as it has the potential to have grave consequences compared to other developed countries like the United States.

“They (the United States) have well-diversified economy that is not overly dependent on any on single sector and in our case you know the gravity of the problem would be far worse, the consequences will be far worse so we’ll have to go the extra mile,”

The CARICOM chairman acknowledged that the Caribbean is at a higher risk given the presence of the virus in the United States, but he says his country and others are implementing other measures to detect and, if necessary, treat the virus. Such measures include the sourcing of protective wear and infrared thermometers.

“Even though one may argue that these individuals may fly to the United States and then travel to Antigua and Barbuda, at least there will be some first instance screening which will help to mitigate risk,” Browne said.

Meanwhile, Antigua and Barbuda’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Rhonda Sealy-Thomas, says the country is taking the necessary precautions to handle the Ebola virus should any case be recorded here.

Dr Sealy-Thomas said the country already has personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by the Pan-American Health Organisation. Since the virus’ outbreak, local health care officials have taken the suits out if storage to assess their condition.

“Although they are suitable for Ebola, we’re being even more cautious,” Sealy-Thomas said in an interview on Observer Radio.

“We’ve ordered additional components of the suit. We’ve ordered additional face masks… and other things to complement the suits we have.”

She added that health care workers, including nurses and emergency medical technicians, have already been trained in infection control, but Ebola-specific training has been implemented.

“We have started training healthcare workers in infection control measures and – most importantly – personal protective equipment. We not only started training workers, but in different departments we’ve developed a strategy where we’re going to train trainer of trainers.

So we train people who can then go on to train other people and what we plan to do – if we do have a case is that if persons have to put on or take off PPE we have somebody observe them – a trainer – so that they are able to identify mistakes that people potentially may make when they are putting on and taking off PPE.”

Ebola-specific training commenced two weeks ago and has included practitioners form both public and private medical facilities.

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