Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Don’t skimp on Ebola precautions

Published:Monday | October 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM

This is not a critique of the Ministry of Health. It's meant to make a serious plea to the powers that be not to make 'politics' and/or 'international protocol' get in the way of executing the most stringent of measures imaginable in order to keep the deadly Ebola virus from affecting our little island.

The chik-V epidemic is a wake-up call. It is causing a lot of morbidity and wreaking havoc in the workplace. The authorities told us months in advance that this virus was coming to Jamaica. However, the public should have been repeatedly informed of all the well-documented possible manifestations of this disease.

Now, people have come up with conspiracy theories to explain the remarkable prevalence of the virus (and possibly other coexisting flu-like viruses). Some blame it on the plane that crashed near Portland, some say that an experiment went wrong, and a few somehow blame Goat Islands.

There are people who lock up their rooms, live in long sleeves and long pants plus socks, use all the Vape products imaginable, wear the portable electronic insect repellent and risk toxic levels of DEET by 'bathing' in insect repellents several times each day yet they still get hit hard by chik-V. Therefore, many swear that this virus is airborne.

There should have been a massive multidisciplinary and interministerial prophylactic response to this disease. The cleaning that is now going on in an ad hoc fashion should have been carried out hastily yet methodically and properly all across the island many months ago. Every possible door-to-door effort to eradicate the mosquito vector should have been made way back then.

Proactive approach

Personal responsibility, discipline, civic pride, common sense and hygiene practices are dismal. We need to actively seek out offenders who dump refuse in our gullies and streets. Perhaps if some foreign expert threatens to expose our messy environment internationally and, therefore, impact tourism negatively, or if some big lending agency makes cleaning up a prerequisite for another much-needed loan, things may start moving.

And now the deadly Ebola is threatening the entire globe. The World Health Organization estimates that so far, more than 4,500 of the at least 8,300 infected by Ebola this year have died. And, of the 416 health-care workers who contracted Ebola, to date, at least 233 have died. The countries most severely affected are Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. But countries far from the outbreak, like the USA and Spain, have new cases.

People are suspicious that Ebola is easier to contract than they are told. They ask me, if the risk of Ebola is only by contact with an infected person's blood, saliva, sweat, faeces, semen, vomit or soiled clothing, why the hazardous material suits just to visit Ebola patients? I have no reassuring words for them.

Our immigration and customs officers are very worried. They must come into contact with people who may have travelled circuitous routes to get here and interacted with people from all over the world. Travellers put various documents and forms in their mouths all the time. We need to take the temperatures of every single arriving passenger as they line up in the immigration lounge, meticulously scrutinise passports for evidence of travel to Ebola hotspots, and randomly interview passengers.

Travel bans, advisories

Jamaica has issued travel bans; we also need travel advisories. We should quarantine persons on minimum suspicion. Airlines should suspend the need for medical certificates and simply give refunds or allow passengers to postpone their flights without penalising them if they report having a fever or not feeling well.

The training of relevant personnel has already begun and necessary barrier nursing and disposable material have been requisitioned. But we need much more public education. We must do anything and everything to keep Ebola away by being aggressively proactive now.

Ebola could be the death knell for our small, struggling nation, which depends heavily on visitors for economic survival and already has an extremely overburdened, underfunded and malfunctioning health-care system.

n Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.