The Ministry of Health sought the medical history of all 95 of the Ghanaian nurses who arrived in Barbados 11 days ago, said Acting Chief Medical Officer Kenneth George on Monday, as he revealed that the information received by the Ministry of Health at that time was “ok”.
He made the comments moments after announcing that one of the nurses had tested positive for malaria, though he pointed out that the mosquito-borne illness, which is endemic to the West African nation, is unlikely to spread here given the difference in the insect’s species.
Already, 12 of the nurses had tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) since landing at the Grantley Adams International Airport on July 30.
At a press conference held at the Ministry of Health’s Culloden Road headquarters Monday afternoon, officials revealed that the nurse was tested for malaria after complaining of abdominal pains.
Much like the coronavirus, malaria could lie undetected for some time after a patient is infected by a disease-carrying mosquito until full-blown illness. For most people, symptoms begin ten days to four weeks after infection, although a patient may fall ill as soon as seven days or as late as a year on.
That patient, who tested negative for COVID-19, has been isolated and is recovering “quite well” from malaria, the Chief Medical Officer said.
When asked if health authorities in Barbados had been privy to the medical information of the Ghanaian nurses prior to their arrival, Dr George replied: “We got good information on their medical history and what was given was at the time ok to the Ministry of Health.”
Dr George maintained that even if health officials knew the nurses were unwell prior to coming here, it did not mean they would have been denied entry to Barbados.
He explained: “The other thing I will say is that with respect to the nursing fraternity and the doctors fraternity, we don’t put any exclusions. So for example I don’t say that if you had malaria you can’t be a nurse.
“I can’t say that if you have COVID you can’t enter the workforce at another point in time. I can’t say that based on even if you knew a person’s HIV status that we can say and make a determination, so we have to be careful how we approach this.
“We can’t put new roadblocks which we don’t do for our population and I think we should stick to that.”
He acknowledged that it was not unusual for cases of malaria to be detected in Barbados as they were usually “two or three every year”.
But based on the advice of Head of Infectious Diseases at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Dr Corey Forde, all 95 of the Ghanaian nurses would now be tested for malaria, Dr George said.
“We are fortunate to have a good team and that advice has been taken so we are proceeding that all persons will be tested for malaria.”
Dr George assured Barbadians not to worry about the mosquito-borne infectious disease being spread.
He said the likelihood of that happening was very low, as Barbados had not recorded a local malaria case in several years.
“Please recall that in Barbados we get about two to three cases of malaria every year. These are usually imported cases because we don’t have malaria as an endemic disease in Barbados.
“The two to three cases tend to come out of cases from South America and we have managed those cases in the past and we will manage this case and any further cases that are likely to come about.”
Dr Forde said the patient was being treated with one of the best drugs available to treat malaria and was responding quite well.
But he did not give a timeline on the patient’s stay in isolation.
Dr Forde said as recently as a year ago health authorities would have treated several travellers from Guyana for malaria, where the disease is endemic to the hinterland.
A local malaria case had not been recorded in 60 years, said Deputy Chief Environmental Health Officer Ronald Chapman.
He explained that Aedes Egypti mosquito, common to Barbados, is a “very poor vector” of malaria, which means it is difficult for that mosquito to transfer malaria from one person to another. Malaria is spread primarily by the Anopheles species, which he said lives only in the Graeme Hall Swamp.
In an ironic twist, the health official pointed out that the sewage problems that plagued the South Coast two years ago had led to a significant decrease in the Anopheles mosquito.
Meanwhile, providing the latest COVID-19 update, Dr Forde said there were currently 24 patients in isolation with the virus, with one man being quite ill.
He said Barbados had recorded one new case of COVID-19, a man who arrived from Turkey on a private aircraft.