– as efforts made to tighten Ebola Virus response
By Sharmain Grainger
Even as it embraces guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help stave off the dreaded Ebola Virus, the local Ministry of Health is taking solace in the fact that most travellers originating from locations in West Africa, where the virus has been rampant, are subjected to intense screening ahead of arrival in Guyana.
This state of affairs was pointed out by Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Shamdeo Persaud, as he entertained questions from media operatives recently.
The Ebola Virus has been wreaking havoc in sections of West Africa after being detected in March of this year. Reports suggest that more than 3,000 persons have already died and even more are infected with the virus which is transmitted through human to human contact with body fluids including: blood, faeces, vomit, breast milk, urine and semen.
But according to Dr. Persaud, “luckily for us most of our travellers from African continents have to travel through another airport to get to Guyana, because there are no direct flights…most of those (other airports) have systems in place to look at this (Ebola).”
Nevertheless, he informed that the Ministry of Health is looking to soon introduce scanners at its ports of entry that can detect symptoms such as fever, which is one of many manifesting traits of the virus. He noted that while the more advanced models might be too pricey for Guyana to afford now, the possibility of procuring a cheaper hand-held model is being considered.
In the interim though, Dr. Persaud said that “we are encouraging pre-boarding screening so passengers who are not well should not be permitted to enter a plane.” This is in light of the fact, he added, that the Ministry’s existing plan “is really to stop Ebola from entering Guyana altogether.”
Moreover, the Ministry is embracing new WHO-issued guidelines that speak to the monitoring of passengers, particularly those arriving.
Tasked with implementing a number of measures intended to help safeguard Guyana from the Ebola Virus, is a Special Standing Committee that was brought into being to deal with health emergencies. This very Committee, according to Dr. Persaud, was charged with dealing with concerns of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the H1N1 Pandemic in years past.
However, in order to deal with the emerging Ebola concerns, the role of the Committee was expanded and Dr. Persaud noted that “we started to meet regularly since early August…” Meetings held in this regard have entailed awareness sessions with airline operators and other key persons in such environments.
Symptoms of the Ebola Virus could manifest similar to that of a common flu including headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, high fever, weakness, stomach pain and lack of appetite. However, as the virus advances, other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function can develop as can internal and external bleeding.
But although infected, a person may not manifest symptoms of the virus until three weeks later, based on information from WHO. And so in order to keep track of travellers, Dr. Persaud divulged that, the Ministry has already implemented a register system at both the Ogle and Cheddi Jagan International Airports which is intended to list persons travelling from African territories.
“We are following up with them…on a weekly basis we are making contact with those persons to see that they are well. Of course before they even enter the country, and not them alone, the Port Health Officers have a form that they (passengers) must complete to see where they travelled,” Dr. Persaud intimated.
Travel records have revealed that a number of incoming travellers are medical students from West African territories attending a local University. And according to Dr. Persaud, the Ministry is working closely with the University to keep track of the students.
“If they do develop any symptoms, of course those would be a trigger for further action,” disclosed the CMO even as he asserted that “we haven’t had any scares, we haven’t had any symptoms or suspected cases.”
As part of its preparatory efforts, the Ministry has also been working towards preparing health workers to deal with any potential outbreak of the virus. This has included refresher training programmes, and according to Dr. Persaud, the country’s premier health institution, the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, has already revised its modules for training in this regard.
Added to this, the CMO related that moves have been made to upgrade the health precautions which cover a wider range of risks for health workers. Moreover, health workers are being sensitised on the importance of using personal protective gear, including face masks, gowns, gloves, eye wear, among others.
“How they put them on and take them off too is important,” said Dr. Persaud as he informed that the Health Ministry is in no hurry to procure these items as they are yet some in stock from the period of the H1N1 pandemic threat.
And even as workers’ wellbeing are given serious considerations, Dr. Persaud noted that moves have also been made to review the infection control at hospitals across the country to identify areas for isolation, a tactic that is in accordance with improving general health services.
At the airports too, at least two, locations have been identified to function as examination rooms. This, according to Dr. Persaud, includes an entire hangar being made available, should there be any suspicion that an individual on board a plane is infected. Such a suspicion, he noted, will require that the entire plane and passengers be quarantined, an act that is provided for under law.
“Most of the public health laws provide globally for quarantining such an aircraft and then have appropriate medical screening to clear the passengers…So we are in the process of doing some work at the airport with the authorities to get these spaces up and running,” the CMO said.
In the meantime, he assured that Port Health Officers are tasked with conducting keen monitoring of incoming passengers.
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