Wed | Jan 23, 2019

LETTER OF THE DAY - Is Jamaica ready for Ebola?

Published:Wednesday | October 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir: Tuesday's Letter of the Day by Clayton Hall was right on target. On September 24, 2014, The Gleaner reported that two Costa Ricans and two Nigerians were apprehended in St Elizabeth and charged with illegal entry after they were held without travel documents. From time to time, we read reports that Haitian boat people arrive on our shores, escaping either some natural catastrophe or poor living conditions.

Given the global movement of people, barring travel from West Africa is pointless. It is almost inevitable that Ebola will reach Jamaica at some point - either directly or via a third country. The question, therefore, becomes not if, but when, we will see our first case.

What concrete plans are we making to deal with this eventuality?

In the current outbreak of chikungunya, we have seen people adamantly refuting the fact that it is mosquito-borne and advocating the use of bissy, soursop leaves, guinea hen weed, papaya and other natural remedies to treat it. In an outbreak of Ebola, trying to treat patients at home is a recipe for disaster that will result in the explosive spread of the virus.

Yes, we need to tighten up at the official ports of entry, but if the virus can not only enter the United States but infect a health-care worker who was wearing protective gear, it is obvious that we need to make rigorous preparations for the worst-case scenario. A few of the questions the Government and the Ministry of Health need to answer are:

Will there be isolation facilities at a limited number of locations or will we try to implement isolation wards in each hospital? (A bad idea given our limited resources).

Are there facilities and transportation located at the ports of entry for the isolation of persons whose health status needs to be evaluated?

Do we have adequate supplies of protective wear and consumables such as bed linen, given that these have to be discarded after each use?

Have health and mortuary workers received intensive training in the use of this equipment, given that the slightest breach of protocol can result in infection?

Have persons been trained in the disposal of hazardous waste, and where will this waste go - to the Riverton dump?

How will bodies be disposed of, and where? Do we have adequate cremation facilities or will bodies be buried where grave robbers can raid them - unknowing and/or uncaring of the risk of infection?

When will an intensive and sustained public-education campaign begin, or will we have to wait until an outbreak starts as in the case of chik-V, where the minister of health told us he didn't say anything in advance because nobody would have taken it seriously?

If nothing happens and we never see a case of Ebola, we will all be grateful, but there is nothing alarmist about being prepared.


Irish Town, St Andrew