EDITORIAL - Preparing for Ebola
Jamaica's most reassuring response, so far, to the fact that Ebola has reached the United States (US) is that Fenton Ferguson has kept his mouth shut. It is not that we expect the Government to remain silent. Rather, we are concerned that the credibility of Dr Ferguson is so low that, should he speak, he is likely to foment a crisis of confidence, making it difficult to mobilise the necessary public response to the disease, should it arrive in Jamaica.
If the health minister is to say anything, he must be vetted to ensure that he has learned from the pompous, unnecessarily blame-deflecting, and ultimately failed communication strategy employed in his hapless management of the chikungunya epidemic, about which he apparently remains in denial.
In that regard, Dr Ferguson should use as an example the response to America's Ebola case by Tom Frieden, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
In the meantime, we are happy for Kevin Harvey, the acting permanent secretary in the health ministry, to continue communicating with the Jamaican people about the authorities' strategy for Ebola, should it reach here, as well as on other matters of public health.
More than mere words
Indeed, we have been impressed with Dr Harvey's recent forthright interventions on the chikungunya issue, which has been absent of the minister's dissembling and obfuscation with statistics.
Our confidence in Dr Harvey notwithstanding, it is important that he offers Jamaicans - without inducing panic - more than declarations of Jamaica's preparedness, including enhanced vigilance at the country's ports.
In other words, these statements must be given the specific meanings.
Take the case of the CDC's Tom Frieden and his vow to stop Ebola "in its tracks" in America. Unlike Dr Ferguson's inchoate and ineptly choreographed Teflon dance over chikungunya, Mr Frieden frontally engaged Americans about the scariness of Ebola, but was upfront about his strategy for tracing people who might have come into contact with the first person diagnosed with the disease in America.
"We always err on the side of identifying and tracing more contacts, rather than less," he said. In other words, when dealing with potential crises, there can be no shortcuts. Nor should key allies in the fight, the would-be victims of the disease, and beneficiaries of the interventions be left in the dark.
INFORM THE PUBLIC
Against this background, the public must be told precisely what initiatives are being/have been instituted at the island's ports to screen/detect potential carriers of Ebola, including whether health officials at these facilities have appropriate body temperature gauges. Further, it would be useful to know if Jamaica has, and reassuring if it does, pre-existing isolation facilities in Kingston and Montego Bay, and has requisite special gear available to health workers who may have to treat Ebola victims.
These are not things over which there should be a scramble at the last minute. Perhaps more critically, the authorities should now begin a concerted education campaign about Ebola: how, and under what circumstances it is contracted; its incubation period; how it is avoided; and how communities can participate in efforts to prevent its spread in the event that it comes to Jamaica.
Given the ease and speed of global travel, Jamaica cannot presume itself isolated from Ebola or any other infectious disease. We can, however, limit the risks by being prepared.
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