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Ebola – I’m trying to secure my own hazmat suit!


Fri, Oct 10, 2014

Editor: Ebola is here – in the western hemisphere and my concern, based on observation of the handling of previous health issues, is that SVG is not prepared to handle an Ebola outbreak.

I look at how the authorities “dropped the ball” with chikungunya, wasting months of possible prevention and preparation time, as the infection made its way down the island chain.{{more}} Long before the virus hit us, SVG should have been under heavy fogging etc to lessen the presence of the aedes aegypti, especially with the expected influx of tourists for that Easter regatta.

Look at the ‘isolation’ rooms at the MCMH, which are well-ventilated and located within the common wards, allowing germs, mosquitoes, etc free rein between both to spread contamination.

Look at the transfer of patients from the mental home to the Orange Hill facility; I heard that there was not enough space to house all of them. Where did the extras go?

Look at the Nigerians who were able to enter SVG without proper health documents. What is this about forwarding blood test results before travelling from an African country? Ebola has an incubation period of two – 21 days. If I take a blood test today and I don’t have the virus, the blood test will show negative, but that doesn’t mean I can’t catch the virus tomorrow or next week. Thus, I could be infected when I arrive, regardless of what the test says. With a disease of this magnitude, the blood test offers a false sense of security.

Ebola has reached the United States. It was brought by a man who lied about his association with Ebola-infected persons, passed the airport screening on September 20, was sent back home by the Dallas hospital when he initially turned up feeling unwell on the 25th and is now under quarantine, along with about 20 people he came into contact with, who are being closely observed.

Now that Ebola has crossed the ocean, I am frightened for myself, but more so for those who work in direct contact with others. I wonder if our health workers are receiving enough or proper training. Are there enough hazmat suits for all of them? (I’ve seen the suits on sale for US$100-1,500 and I remember that MCMH sometimes sends patients’ families ‘up the road’ to buy medical supplies and sometimes stitches wounds without anaesthesia because of lack of supplies.) Have they been trained to put on, take off and sanitize the suits? Do they know there is a specific procedure for this?

Now that patients are being removed and diverted from the MCMH, which is due to undergo refurbishment, are we building a quarantine structure to house possible Ebola patients? Are we using a pre-existing facility, such as a clinic? If so has the clinic’s staff been notified so that they can detail any structural problems the clinic has that may undermine its integrity?

What about the teachers who interact daily with runny-nosed and finger-sucking children? Those who assist the kindergarten and pre-schoolers who have bathroom accidents and upset stomachs? Has thought been given as to whether schools will be closed or if not, how the schools’ bathrooms will be monitored or cleaned to avoid cross-contamination?

God’s willing, Ebola never reaches us, but just in case how much is being done to sensitize the public? What about those persons who persist in urinating everywhere except in a toilet? With a virus that can be spread through contact, do the van and taxi drivers and their passengers know the virus can be left on the seats in the sweat of contagious passengers wearing backless or sleeveless tops, shorts or other skin-revealing clothing?

We seem to be a more reactive than proactive country. Additionally we have a generation of ignorant and uncaring people that make up a large part of our populace (like those who still doubt chikungunya is transmitted by mosquitoes and therefore do nothing to stop them breeding and those who wilfully deface the cenotaph). I therefore urge the relevant authorities to step up their planning and public sensitization to this deadly outbreak NOW! Most of what I’ve learned about Ebola has been from foreign news outlets and while I am hearing some of the activities other Caribbean countries have started in the event Ebola reaches them, I’m not hearing much from St Vincent and the Grenadines.

I’m hoping for increased sensitization and collaboration between the relevant Ministries and the public, but in the meantime I’m trying to secure my own hazmat suit and stock up on groceries to avoid excessive public contact if the Ebola outbreak reaches SVG.