Guard against Ebola threat

Now that the Ebola virus, sickening and killing victims across West Africa, has merited deployment of 3,000 American troops, the world, including Trinidad and Tobago, should recognise a common enemy.

From the Caribbean, Cuba has committed 165 doctors and nurses to the frontline of the Ebola plague. The Cuban team includes epidemiologists, specialists in infection control, intensive care specialists and social mobilisation officers.

Their mission is to run six-month Ebola clinics in Sierra Leone. Cuba has in fact made its medical services into a major revenue earner for the island, accounting for 28 per cent of export earnings or over US$2 billion (as compared to Cuban cigars which annually earn about US$200 million), with most of that money coming from international organisations. This particular initiative is being paid for by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Trinidad and Tobago continues to contribute to Cuba’s coffers in similar fashion, recruiting their medical professionals for our health sector, though the Health Ministry has never publicised the costs of employment or the conditions under which the Cuban doctors are allowed to work here since travel is not a right in that Communist nation.

However, given Cuba’s front-line role in the Ebola battle, T&T might be well advised to use its Cuban medical contacts to prepare for any infiltration into our shores.

Only last Thursday, staff at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Centre (EWMSC) stayed away from work because they had heard rumours that a patient at the facility was exhibiting symptoms similar to those caused by the Ebola virus. This turned out not to be the case but, had it been, the unprofessional reaction of the EWMSC staff could have facilitated an outbreak from this putative Patient Zero.

That one incident should spur the health authorities to become pro-active, informing staff about precautions to prevent infection from Ebola and the proper protocols for treatment. After all, despite the panicky media reports, Ebola is not that easy to catch, since one would have to be in direct contact with an infected person who is already exhibiting the clear symptoms—diarrhoea, vomiting, haemorrhage—of the disease’s final stages.

The virus has spread rapidly in West Africa only because the conditions of urban poverty and inadequate medical care have facilitated transmission. So doctors and nurses and other staff who have been prepared and who have the proper equipment are at relatively low risk.

In that context, it may be both timely and advisable for this country, possibly working with Cuba, to send some volunteer mission of its own to Sierra Leone to help in the medical struggles there, and to derive useful information about how to prepare for and respond to nightmare prospect of Ebola’s arrival on these shores.

Trinidad Express Newspaper, September 19, 2014

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