Tue | Jan 17, 2017

Jamaica on high alert for Ebola - PM

Published:Wednesday | October 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller provides details about Jamaica's national emergency response and preparedness for Ebola during a meeting involving government ministers, parliamentarians, and representatives of state agencies at Jamaica House in St Andrew yesterday. Contributed

An integrated National Coordinating Team, headed by the Ministry of Health and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), has been established to lead the country's heightened preparations in the event that the deadly Ebola virus hits Jamaica.

At the same time, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller disclosed that she has assumed lead in the fight against the dreaded chikungunya, with the Government setting aside $500 million to mobilise and finance the war against the debilitating virus.

But even as the prime minister prepares to tackle the chikungunya outbreak from the front, she has sought to reassure that measures such as an Ebola prevention and response plan were also on in earnest.

"This (Ebola) team will work within the framework of the country's emergency response and management mechanism now being activated for the Ebola prevention and planning involving all emergency responders," Simpson Miller said in an update to parliamentarians and mayors across the island.

"We will draw on our national emergency management mechanism - including resources from the Jamaica Defence Force, Jamaica Constabulary Force, Jamaica Fire Brigade, and other key stakeholders - to prepare and respond to this threat," she added.

"The Government is on high alert and is closely monitoring developments to learn lessons from the emergency management of cases," she said.

"Where Ebola is concerned, we simply cannot afford any divisiveness … . We need to be speaking with one voice on this matter … . If we don't stop it from coming to our shores - and effectively manage it if it does - we all stand to lose … ."

This is an excerpt from Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's emergency meeting with MPs and councillors yesterday.

We
are all aware of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and more recently of
the cases closer to our shores in Texas, United States, as well as in
Spain and Germany.

The Government of Jamaica is on high alert and
is closely monitoring developments to learn lessons from the emergency
management of cases.

Where Ebola is concerned, we simply cannot
afford any divisiveness of any kind. We need to be speaking with one
voice on this matter. If we don't stop it from coming to our shores and
effectively manage it if it does, we all stand to lose. We will suffer.
Our people will suffer. Our beloved country will suffer.

As we have seen, this is something that kills, kills quickly and can kill in large numbers.

I know that all Jamaicans are understandably very concerned about the global situation involving the Ebola virus.

The
Government appreciates the need to increase the level of public
confidence and trust in our public-health system. A national response to
this national health threat requires a comprehensive integrated
approach.

integrated nationalcoordinating team

Following
several weeks of planning, extensive consultations, preparation, and
detailed discussions with the senior team at the Ministry of Health, we
are putting in place an integrated national coordinating team headed by
the Ministry of Health and the Jamaica Defence Force, to lead the
country's heightened preparations.

This team will work within the
framework of the country's emergency response and management mechanism
now being activated for the Ebola prevention and planning involving all
emergency responders.

We will draw on our national emergency
management mechanism including resources from the Jamaica Defence Force
(JDF), Jamaica Constabulary Force, Jamaica Fire Brigade, and other key
stakeholders to prepare and respond to this threat.

We have made a
request to one foreign government for assistance with our preparations
and, specifically, the training of our health-care professionals.

A
detailed action plan is being developed with a clear command structure.
The action plan will have details for various scenarios, what is to be
done, by whom, by when, and with what resources.

We will continue to train and sensitise key stakeholders in the coming weeks including our:

Political representatives;

All health workers and their associations in the public and private sectors;

Trade unions;

Immigration and Customs; other airport and seaport management and staff;

Management and staff of all hospitals and health centres - private and public;

Churches and other community-based organisations;

The private sector;

The media;

The JDF; police; ODPEM; the Jamaica Fire Brigade;

Operators of funeral homes;

A
robust national communication strategy and programme is being developed
and implemented through private- and public-sector collaboration.

The
public-education campaign will rely on proven methods of communication
and social mobilisation, including the use of mainstream and social
media; community networks such as churches, the SDC, parish councils,
MP, engagement of trade unions and employers, etc.

Everybody has a
role and a responsibility in this effort. I call on the media,
political operatives and all Jamaicans to be responsible in this period.

I
know that there are real concerns among the population. Let us discuss
those concerns. There is nothing to be gained from inciting panic and
fear.

The national plans are being activated and the best possible
arrangements are being put in place. The necessary resources are being
mobilised.

There has been an initial offer of assistance for
funding and other resource mobilisation from some private sector
representatives. This gesture is accepted and appreciated. We will
continue to engage them as critical stakeholders in this process.

training health-care professionals

The
training of health-care professionals has started and is to be
increased. We must practise, practise, practise. Immigration, Customs
and other airport and seaport staff are being trained.

Training of
health professionals commenced in August and is still well under way.
Yesterday, senior medical officers and heads of departments at our major
health facilities islandwide were trained as part of our preparedness
exercise. Immigration personnel at Norman Manley International Airport
received training last week Monday and their counterparts at Sangster
International Airport were trained on Wednesday last week.

These
training exercises will continue. There is more to be done. Training
will be provided to all key stakeholder groups to ensure full
understanding of the protocols and instructions for implementation.

All
required emergency protocols and procedures will be rehearsed several
times, over and over again, to reinforce skills and reduce the risk of
breaches. Simulation exercises are also being planned. Importantly,
follow-up will be done to confirm understanding and ensure achievement
of training objectives.

A lot of effort has been expended in
preparing the necessary protocols and guidance documents to train our
key stakeholders in the preparation for and management of any possible
Ebola incident. These protocols have been customised by Ministry of
Health and are specific to ensure relevance to each stakeholder.

Surveillance at ports of entry

Surveillance
at the ports of entry is being increased. Equipment such as hand-held
laser temperature machines are being acquired through emergency
arrangements. Protective gear is in stock at the Ministry of Health with
minimal numbers being deployed to health facilities and emergency
response teams at the outset.

Additional gear is available from
local suppliers and emergency procurement arrangements are in place to
access these supplies at short notice. Additional supplies are available
overseas with arrangements in place for 24-hour delivery should they be
needed.

Isolation rooms are being established at airports and
hospitals. A central isolation facility equipped to treat possible Ebola
patients has been identified, and is being equipped and staff trained.

The
emergency health team is fully equipped to answer the questions that
are of concern to Jamaicans and to provide all the information that is
available.

We will be increasing our communication. I have
instructed the team planning, preparing and monitoring the Ebola threat
led by the JDF and the Ministry of Health to be thorough and efficient
in their operations. They are to be accessible, upfront, honest, open
and clear with the people of Jamaica in all their communication.

Let
all of us, as leaders, be guided by the agreed scientific facts and not
speculate or express casual opinions which can cause panic and
demoralise our front-line workers.

Jamaicans are being encouraged
to take action as part of our personal responsibility in this situation.
Avoid travelling to Ebola-affected countries and regions, and
truthfully declare your travel history when arriving and departing the
island.

This is our country. We all have a stake and a vested interest in protecting it and in keeping our people safe and healthy.