The deadly Ebola virus does not present an immediate threat to Barbados and the country’s health officials have already activated an action plan to keep it that way.
Minister of Health John Boyce, flanked by the island’s leading public health personnel, delivered the assurance today at a news conference.
“There are no cases of Ebola in Barbados,” he said.
“Members of the public should be aware that the likelihood of catching the Ebola virus disease is considered very low unless you’ve travelled to a known infected area and had direct contact with a person with Ebola-like symptoms, or had contact with infected animals or contaminated objects,” he said.
Still the ministry is taking no chances and it has strengthened its preparedness measures to ensure the country is ready to respond if the need arises.
Under the plan, environmental health officers and port health nurses will be conducting surveillance to identify any person with symptoms.
“When you come in the nurse will say to you at the airport, you’ve come from West Africa these are the guidelines, if you get ill within such and such a period of time we are going to follow you and then quarantine you, but at the moment we can’t put that quarantine in place; it’s not quite necessary at this time, ” said Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand.
In addition, health care workers will be trained to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to protect the public and themselves.
Minister Boyce also made it clear that the Government will back up these efforts with any financial help needed to ensure the island can respond effectively.
“The Government of Barbados has made it very clear that health is not going to be compromised in any way or form so anytime that the Ministry of Health or a specific department needed to have additional resources to make sure the health of our nation is secure you can be rest assured that will be made available.”
Meanwhile, Dr Ferdinand acknowledged that while there were growing fears about the disease, which had claimed 932 lives in West Africa so far, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was yet to issue any travel restrictions or close any borders.
Dr Ferdinand disclosed that the Ministry was awaiting the outcome of a two-day meeting of global health experts at the WHO that has been discussing new measures to tackle the Ebola outbreak.
The talks, expected to wrap up today, would also decide whether a global health emergency should be declared.
She, however, advised Barbadians to put off travel to affected countries.
“If anyone is travelling to that area we should defer the visit if we can unless it is a dire emergency and you must know what conditions apply there and what you need to do.”
In the event of travel, Ferdinand urged the public to adhere to strict prevention measures, including proper hand hygiene, no contact with blood and other body fluids of an infected person, animals and raw meat. She also advised that hospitals which treat Ebola patients should be avoided.
Ebola is a rare infection that is spread by contact with blood or body fluids of an infected person or animals.
Dr Courtney Forde said patients can suffer symptoms, including fever, muscle pain, headaches and sore throat but he stressed that the patient’s travel history was critical to the diagnosis.
“I think when you look and compare to some of the other infectious diseases such as dengue fever it can have a similar presentation but the most important feature here is that the incubation period is totally different from most diseases. I think that the other important aspect is the history of the travel of the patient which will bring the diagnosis into play.”
Dr Ferdinand emphasised that Barbados was still in the planning stage and if it needs assistance, it will draw on the resources of Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
Ministry officials were engaged in a another planning session this evening.