That is the only way to sum up the fact that nine Ghanaian nurses who arrived from the African nation last Thursday have tested positive for the highly infectious COVID-19 virus, possibly endangering media, airport workers, Government ministers, the executive chairman of our main primary health care institution, among others.
As this editorial is being written, our Minister of Health Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic and newly appointed Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins have been forced into isolation for the next few days before they undergo tests for exposure to the illness.
We wish only the very best to both senior government ministers and all those who may have been in contact with the group. But this, we are convinced, was an avoidable situation. The world has been in the grips of the worse health crisis of our lifetime over the last six months. The United States is heading for almost 5 million COVID-19 cases, India and Brazil are also leading the globe in infections.
While many African countries have, fortunately, managed to stay off this particular list of top infected nations, as health care workers specifically, the nurses should have been more conscious of the need to know their status for the disease before heading off to an island nation that is battling to keep its population safe from COVID-19.
We don’t enjoy sounding harsh on this group of professionals invited by our Government to work here for the next two years. But someone has to tell the Governments of Barbados and Ghana that this misstep could have had catastrophic implications for Barbados’ citizens and its flagging economy.
We are currently inviting professionals from around the world to come here to live and work remotely for a year. Everyone is talking about Barbados. Imagine the damage to our reputation if infected nurses had made it into the general population?
This plan to import Ghanaian nurses has been on the table for months. Since last year we were making plans for the imported nurses. In early January, Minister Bostic was reported as saying the African nurses were expected in the first week of February “but there are one or two issues which have to be dealt with by the government of Ghana, in terms of obtaining visas”.
Since that period, Barbados has introduced travel protocols, and frankly the first thing one thinks of before a decision to travel in this environment is “what do I do about COVID-19”. Even if the excitement of travelling to a new nation may have led to awkward error or oversight, there really is no excuse for all the parties involved.
The attempt by our chief medical officer (CMO) Dr. Kenneth George to put a positive spin on the sad circumstances fell way short as he sought to cast it as a win for Barbados’ COVID-19 procedures. Yes. We managed to capture this large set of cases through rigorous testing. But CMO, is that good enough?
Our local stock of nurses is fast depleting due to migration, attrition due to retirement, fewer successful nursing graduates from the Barbados Community College and more nursing practitioners advancing their education and moving into administrative positions.
The void to be filled by the Ghanaian professionals added to those provided by the Government of Cuba specifically to work in the fight against COVID-19, is more than needed at this time. They have been warmly welcomed by the Barbados Nurses Association and this is noteworthy.
What we do hope for are no further surprises. Another debacle would be an injustice to the nursing profession and to the important relationship between Ghana and Barbados.