Barbados is one of three regional destinations involved in a pilot project aimed at strengthening and implementing early warning systems to enhance regional and national health safety efforts.
The initiative is being carried out under the Regional Tourism Health Capacity Enhancement and Digitisation project and includes specific capabilities for instituting, tracing and monitoring health-related information in the tourism sector to quickly catch health threats and respond quickly.
This was revealed on Wednesday during a health and wellness in tourism forum, as one Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) official pointed out that sometimes tourism industry operators were reluctant to raise an alarm over a viral illness among travellers.
CARPHA’s Director of the Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control Division Dr Lisa Indar recalled a norovirus outbreak in a tourism-dependent destination several years ago, which started with a child who travelled with his parents and stayed at an all-inclusive facility where the virus spread.
“Of course, the general norm is for the accommodation not to report this. They would have tried to deal with it, but then within two days it went up to 300 cases and by the end of the week it was 800 cases and it was extended to other hotels in the country. The Ministry of Health was alerted when it had almost reached 500 cases,” she recalled.
She said it was against this background that CARPHA was keen on helping regional destinations develop systems that were able to allow for a healthier and safer tourism product, as she pointed to some of the systems already in place.
These include the early warning regional tourism health information, surveillance, monitoring and response system and the Caribbean cruise ship surveillance system.
“In about 22 countries they are implementing different segments and we have about 13 that have already launched. The biggest impact is early warning, monitoring and response so that we can reduce or stop spread. Through the tourism and health information system and the cruise ship system we have been able to capture 12,100 THiS [tourism health information system) reports and we have been able to record 636 alerts just in the last two years,” she said.
She also noted that CARPHA has been able to build capacity in prevention and control through training of some 8,000 individuals in the tourism sector in the region.
“Through the THiS we picked up some outbreaks. We had a multi-hotel outbreak in December and you haven’t seen this anywhere because we dealt with it. Right now there is also [an] outbreak occurring in countries involving visitors and you don’t see the name of hotels but we are dealing with that,” she assured, without naming the country.
Frank Comito, Special Advisor and Former Chief Executive Officer and Director General of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), gave an insight into the Regional Tourism Health Capacity Enhancement and Digitisation project for which grant funding was provided by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
He said the project, which is being done in collaboration with the CHTA, CARPHA and the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), had three main components – the advancement and implementation of the Caribbean Travellers’ Health Assurance Stamp for Healthier Safer Tourism (HST) programme, the harmonisation and expansion of an integrated online visitor health information management system and the implementation of training and capacity-building services.
He said while the full roll-out of the project was expected “very soon”, “there are three pilot countries that we are working closely with on this – Belize, Barbados and the Bahamas”.
“The first component is to improve our communications around promoting and advancing the Travellers’ Health Assurance Stamp for Healthier Safer Tourism. That is being developed by Marketplace Excellence, our PR agency. With that, there will be an opportunity for awareness-building and for generating greater support for the stamp and the online resources that CARPHA has developed. There will be a toolkit on that very shortly,” he said
“The second component is on the technology enhancement, digitisation and data collection process. That is being undertaken entirely within the CTO,” said Comito.
He said the visitor health information collected online will ensure that authorities have “better data and more timely data that we can draw from” to make informed decisions.
“The third component is capacity development training and promotion. We are actually creating several training courses … and we will be rolling them out in the coming months. We are anticipating that they will be launched no later than early May,” he added.
During Wednesday’s virtual forum, officials highlighted the need for regional destinations to place greater focus on continued development of the health and wellness tourism market, enforce standards, create a better enabling environment and incorporate greater use of technology.
The health and wellness in tourism forum was hosted by the CTO, in collaboration with the CHTA and CARPHA, under the theme Revisiting Health and Wellness: New Frontiers for Caribbean Tourism. (MM)