Act with urgency to keep the deadly Ebola virus out of Barbados and prevent further spread of the Chikungunya virus.
That is the call to the Freundel Stuart administration from Shadow Minister of Health Dr Maria Agard and her Barbados Labour Party colleagues Senator Wilfred Abrahams and MP for the City Colonel Jeffrey Bostic, as they expressed concern that both diseases had the potential to be catastrophic for this country.
In a media conference today at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, they called on Government to enhance scrutiny at all ports of entry while ensuring that everyone in the travel industry was sensitized and educated about how to identify the symptoms of Ebola and address any suspected cases.
Abrahams expressed concern that Barbados was not ready to deal with the disease that has already claimed more than 3,800 lives in West Africa. There has also been one confirmed death in the American state of Texas, and another two cases in Spain.
“Ebola is crossing the borders of countries. I would like a situation where no one in Barbados ever contracts it or no person who has contracted Ebola manages to make it to Barbados. But what if they do and we are unprepared?” he questioned.
“This is where our authorities need to not just simply say to us ‘we are taking all necessary steps’. Let them . . . tell us what those steps are and where exactly we are in our preparation for this because I am not comfortable that if there was an outbreak of Ebola in Barbados it could be dealt with.”
“Our economy would sink . . . As a tourist destination, any outbreak of anything would cripple our economy,” Abrahams warned.
Bostic added: “To me it is a national security threat; Ebola as well as Chikungunya . . . . By now we should see signs emerging of authorities treating these matters as though they are threats to the national security of Barbados. Until I see those signs I will remain wary as to what they are doing.”
As for Chikungunya, Agard said while 40 cases have been confirmed in Barbados, there were “hundreds of suffering patients” manifesting symptoms of the mosquito-borne disease “everyday”.
“Even as they await confirmation many are stricken, rendered virtually immobile by the crippling effects of joint and muscle pains, headache, fever and internal bleeding. Rendered unable to work, hundreds of productive hours have been lost as those afflicted struggle to overcome their illness,” Agard said, with Bostic adding that his business of 55 workers was down by about nine people due to employees experiencing Chikungunya-like symptoms.
“While the polyclinics call for personal responsibility – and we endorse that call – we maintain that our Ministers of Government, especially the Ministers of Health [John Boyce]and the Environment [Dr Denis Lowe] must act with urgency to place all critical resources at the disposal of our health facilitators to eradicate this . . . threat.
“We do not have the luxury of hiding behind a confirmed figure of 40 cases, when we know that hundreds more have been afflicted. We urge our Ministers of Health and the Environment to treat the Chikungunya infection in Barbados as if it was a national crisis now. We must act decisively now,” Agard insisted.
Adding that other Caribbean islands had put definitive measures in place to deal with the disease, the Opposition members also criticized Boyce and Lowe for travelling overseas and “ignoring their national responsibility” in relation to dealing with the disease.
Agard pointed to overgrown bush across the island, an increase in the population of rodents, flies and mosquitoes, as well as mounting garbage, as contributing to the problem.
She said while she understood that the Government was faced with “difficult economic times” it needed to find a way to preserve the health of Barbadians at all costs.
The trio warned that failure to address the situation with urgency could devastate the island’s law enforcement, education and tourism sectors.
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