Oct 27, 2014 News
– “irrelevant” visa restrictions far from comforting
The panic that erupted last week after a woman was quarantined at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation has led parliamentarian Carl Greenidge to suggest that a strategy be in place to avoid a similar situation.
Though the GPHC and the government set the record straight that the woman was not infected with the deadly Ebola virus and was still being monitored, Greenidge said that he was left with a feeling that government’s approach leaves something to be desired, especially as regards to avoiding public panic.
With in-depth knowledge and experience in Health Economics and years of service spent in Africa, Greenidge opined that the “suspected case” arrived in Guyana without any acceptable entry protocol.
He said that the immigration form asks travelers to specify from where they had travelled but without a time reference.
In spite of this, Greenidge claimed that the authorities neither knew nor were alerted to the fact that the visitor had been to West Africa. This, he said, probably means that the forms are neither analyzed nor supplemented by questions by the health authorities at the airport.
However, Greenidge made it clear that he is not suggesting that the authorities should have stopped the returning passenger, but that they should have known and should have made arrangements to alert all visitors from all the affected countries to contact a designated set of medical clinics, or doctors in the event of any problems. The Ministry or the crisis response teams should then keep a track of the developments at the clinics, he recommended.
The politician said that “it goes without saying” that some basic medical capacity should be provided at the airport.
With specific reference to the ban by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on West African visitors to Guyana’s shores, Greenidge said that he found this to be irrelevant.
“Whilst it would therefore be entirely prudent and understandable to try to isolate or exclude persons who may have been in physical contact with those infected or at risk, since the infection does not respect nationalities or race, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues’ statement to the effect that only persons of a particular nationality or cluster of nationalities are to be denied visas to visit Guyana is inappropriate, at best.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) he said, recommends no such ban and Guyana should be careful about such reactions which are not even in place in the main Caribbean states some of which have recognized the need to deal with all travelers rather than just West Africans.
He said that the analysts who are looking at the current Ebola crisis that erupted in March and now appears to be out of control in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have agreed on six points. He made reference to what was the enforcement of public health regulations and the quality of medical services and health systems. He expounded that trained nurses, qualified doctors, availability of beds, protective material and drugs will determine the nation’s ability to control the spread of the outbreak.
“There is a consensus except, dare I say, among the Government MPs, that these systems need urgent attention. The Ministers of Finance and Health, Works and Local Government should ensure that funds are available to urgently upgrade the status in these.”
Greenidge opined that this is not solely or primarily a visa problem, because Guyanese and Commonwealth citizens can contract and bring the virus into Guyana.
He said that the exaggerated emphasis on a de facto visa ban is misconceived and gives false comfort to the public.
He asserted that a more defensible and acceptable set of restrictions consistent with the recommendations of the WHO, would be to deny visas to travelers who have been to any of the affected West African states within the last say, week or 41 days. Travelers, he emphasized, would include both Africans and non-Africans.
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