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Jamaican delegation to Peru climate talks unconcerned about Ebola

Published:Friday | December 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Petre Williams-Raynor, Contributing Editor

AS THE Jamaica delegation headed to the global climate talks in Peru last week, members harboured no concerns over the dreaded Ebola virus which has claimed the lives of thousands in West Africa.

The seven-member delegation will spend the next two weeks locked in negotiations with others from across the world, including areas affected by the virus, as they attend the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

"I have not heard any anxiety [from the team] over this," said Colonel Oral Khan, chief technical director in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change, in a recent interview.

"I would expect that the governments of those countries [affected] would act responsibly and ensure that anybody they send would be free from the disease. I would also expect the Peruvian authorities to institute measures to protect their own borders ... . And then our personnel will take individual precautions," he added.

Efforts to get a comment from the UNFCCC or the Peruvian government proved futile up to press time. But indications are that mechanisms are in place to ensure the health and safety of the hundreds attending the talks, which are to advance work on an international climate-change agreement to be signed in Paris, France next year.

"Authorities have put up informational posters around Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport telling passengers travelling to or from Africa about the characteristics, forms of transmission, and prevention of Ebola," peruthisweek.com reported from as early as August 14.

It went on to quote a National Institute of Health representative as saying they have "biosafety expertise and training in maintaining samples from patients with high biological risk or contagion".

Community Engagement

News of Ebola as an international health emergency prompted countries the world over to examine their preparedness for the virus, which has an average case fatality rate of some 50 per cent.

Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) says, is "transmitted to people from wild animals and spread in the human population through human-to-human transmission".

According to WHO, "community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks" with good outbreak control defined as being reliant on "applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials, and social mobilisation".

"Participants will just have to be extra careful in going about their business at the COP, bearing in mind that there is this threat. However, the disease is not as contagious as others and we think the Peruvian government and the UNFCCC will do everything to ensure that everyone will be as safe as possible," noted Clifford Mahlung, coordinator for capacity building with the Alliance of Small Island States and a member of the Jamaica delegation.

"We are assured that the Peruvian government is going to put in place all the requirements to screen incoming participants at the airport who may show signs of Ebola, and will do the follow-up procedures," he added.

Gerald Lindo, senior technical officer with responsibility for mitigation at the Climate Change Division, was himself unconcerned.

"I'm not worried because, to the best of my knowledge, you can't get Ebola from casual contact, neither is it airborne. This isn't like the flu. One needs direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is sick - not just infected, but displaying symptoms - with a mucous membrane or with a break in the skin to catch it. I, for one, won't be in such close contact with anyone's fluids," he told The Gleaner from Peru last week.

"I also think that the likelihood of meeting an infected person is low, given the low number of infected countries, and the current levels of panic-induced vigilance, both in terms of people self-monitoring, and at the ports," he added.

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