The World Health Organization (WHO) on January 9, last, reported that a 2019 novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was identified by Chinese authorities.
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, and as with any other novel and imported disease, the 2019-nCoV is causing heightened concern in Guyana and the Caribbean region.
However, the Ministry of Public Health and the Pan-American Health Organization- World Health Organization (PAHO-WHO) have emphatically stated that the country’s health sector is prepared to screen, detect, isolate and treat the deadly virus, should it arrive on the country’s shores.
During a press conference held yesterday at the PAHO’s Boardroom in Brickdam Georgetown, Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, confirmed that there are no cases of the deadly virus in Guyana, since the risk of it being detected here is very low.
However, if the deadly virus is to break through the country’s shores, the Minister boasted that the country’s health sector is well-prepared to screen, detect, isolate and treat the virus, which has claimed the lives of 106 persons thus far. All the deaths have been recorded in China.
Minister Lawrence explained that the Ministry has increased surveillance at all of the country’s points-of- entry, increased capacity training for medical personnel, and has prepared health facilities for isolation and testing.
Furthermore, Minister Lawrence added that health officials are preparing to launch a public information campaign on what the Coronavirus is and what measures can be taken to prevent the disease.
The virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described symptoms as those commonly experienced with contraction of influenza. The incubation period is believed to be between two and 14 days.
An incubation period begins from the moment of exposure to the infectious agent until signs and symptoms of the disease appear. Minister Lawrence said the Ministry has adequate drugs in stock and if necessary, will utilise resources from its 2020 funds allocation.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud, said additional health officers and medics have been deployed in all health districts. Points of entry in Lethem, Moleson Creek, Georgetown and New Amsterdam have put measures in place to deal with any possible infection while health outposts in border communities have been placed on high alert and are making the necessary preparations.
PAHO/WHO Representative, Dr. William Adu-Krow, explained that Guyana is proficient in treating and becoming prepared to address life-threatening illness, so he is not at all worried about whether the country would hold up to that standard.
“I think every time [the country] goes through [a disease like]… Chikungunya, SARS, ebola and histoplasmosis, I think it has made us gain enough experience. So in this country even though we might not have had the cases, trust me, we have enough experience to be able to deal with it… That experience has come as a result of preparedness,” the doctor explained.
He explained that for a person to become infected, he or she must come within the outbreak point, through body fluids of who has been infected, or has eaten contaminated food.
“According to the case definition, we are very, very low in terms of the possibility of getting a condition like that…According to a case definition, you must have come from China and you must have come from China during the incubation period of 14 days…So that’s one, or you must be around someone who has been confirmed of having the virus.”
Mr. Adu-Krow said that even as the outbreak remains a serious one, there is no need for panic as the number of cases is far below other outbreaks that have been reported in the past.
“In terms of the confirmed cases, it may be sound as an oxymoron for me to say as compared to Ebola, this is a less virulent condition because Ebola in the beginning killed 99% of people who had Ebola…
Now with this new condition, we thought it was around 24%, now it dropped to 2.9%, what does that mean that every hundred people that have the condition, 2.9% may die, so it’s less of an issue.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Karen Gordon-Campbell noted that the Georgetown Public Hospital is working to boost existing safety measures.
Currently, there are 4,564 confirmed cases worldwide in 14 countries with 52 of those cases occurring outside of China. North, South and Central America have a combined seven confirmed cases.
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