Monday, October 20, 2014

Ebola and The Bahamas: Proper Planning will Prevent Panic - says the Democratic National Alliance (DNA)

Christopher Mortimer Amid rising concern regarding the Ebola health crisis, Government officials from around the globe are taking the necessary action to prepare their respective countries for a potential outbreak and protect their citizens. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of this Christie led administration. The Government of the Bahamas has taken too lax an approach to the handling of this disease which is now at our back door; and as with countless other national issues, our leaders have shown themselves ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL.

The Democratic National Alliance, more than two weeks ago, called for the Ministry of Health, helmed by Dr. Perry Gomez, to begin a widespread education campaign on the effects of the disease and outline specifically, the government’s plans to prevent a possible outbreak. According to the Minister, the government has created what officials claim is a dynamic preparedness plan to protect the citizenry, a plan based on meetings with stakeholders from various sectors of government and private sector. For this, the DNA commends the Minister of Health for at least taking these very minimal steps, however MORE IS NEEDED.

Instead of providing clarity on the way forward, the Minister has left even more unanswered questions. His most recent update statement on the Ebola virus and its implications, was yet another wasted opportunity for the government who, instead of providing details of its plan and when implementation of said plan would occur, he simply regurgitated facts about the disease which could be acquired by a simple Google search. What we need are SPECIFICS! What we need are FACTS! What we need is ACCESS to the government’s plan!

The government’s failure to release that plan to the public is cause for concern and raises a number of Questions. For example, has the government identified secure isolation centers to house the potentially infected and If so, WHERE? This is of particular importance as many public healthcare clinics and facilities exist within the heart of residential communities which could spell disaster if exposure occurs. What are the protocols in the event of a confirmed case? Have healthcare professional been properly briefed regarding those protocols?

In a statement to the media last week the Chief Medical Officer revealed an even more frightening reality when he asserted there was only 3 days’ worth of medical supply to treat an infected individual, even though experts suggest that an infected patient can live up to 8 days after becoming symptomatic; coupled with the recent “loss” of millions of dollars in prescription medication from the Princess Margaret Hospital is even MORE ALARMING!

As the deadly virus continues to overwhelm isolation centers and public healthcare systems worldwide, scores of countries around the globe and even within this region have already implemented increased screening processes and travel bans to protect their borders; particularly as it relates to persons traveling from locales severely affected by the disease. Here in the Bahamas however, such options are only now being CONSIDERED by government officials locally even though thousands of visitors from around the world enter our borders by air and sea daily. For decades, our country’s porous borders have posed serious challenges in terms of immigration, drug and weapons smuggling and even human smuggling. Now, the threat of this lethal disease threatens to further aggravate an already contentious problem. Rather than take the proactive approach like our regional counterparts, this government seems comfortable relying on foreign nations to perform Ebola screenings.

According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control, the recent Ebola outbreak, categorized as the worst in the world’s history, has killed over four thousand, five hundred people with the number of new infections to grow exponentially by the end of the year. The disease, which has an incubation period of 2 to 21 days, means that an infected individual traveling through Europe or the United States may successfully pass through screenings in those countries only to become symptomatic and contagious once reaching our borders. Since January 2014 to September 2014, the Bahamas has had at least 66 persons who have traveled from West Africa to the Bahamas. Those figures alone reinforce the absolute need for enhanced screening and public education.

Enhanced screening protocols must ensure that travelers from affected countries be questioned at the border by a health care professional stationed there to determine the potential risk. Travelers must also be subject to physical screenings such as having their temperature taken – with an Infrared Thermometer to limit physical contact – and observation for other Symptoms of Ebola. Information packets containing facts about the disease and its symptoms should also be provided at the border so that travelers themselves are vigilant about their own health status.

These additional screenings are a layered approach and must be used with other public health measures to ensure that every precaution is being taken.

While it is important to refrain from inciting panic over the potential impact of the disease on the Bahamas, it is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT to educate the citizenry. In the absence of actual FACT and INFORMATION, only fear, uncertainty and misinformation remain. The government MUST not treat this issue as it has treated countless others. Shrouding their plans in secrecy will not keep Bahamians safe. ONLY ACTION WILL!

Christopher Mortimer
Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Deputy Leader