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Cholera all clear

by Latoya Burnham

Barbados is still cholera free and all systems are in place to ensure it stays that way.

This was the assurance given by Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John this morning even as the Pan American Health Organisation issued warnings to the rest of the Eastern Caribbean to keep eye out for any cases of infection down the island chain.

Cholera, which has been prevalent in Haiti and parts of the Dominican Republic, had most recently spread to Cuba, as PAHO director general, Dr. Carissa Etienne encouraged vigilance particularly to Antigua given the high level of travel between that Caribbean nation and the affected countries.

As reports from Antigua yesterday noted that there had been no clear indication of what contingency plans were in place for the populations of Antigua and Barbuda in case of an outbreak, in Barbados Dr. St. John said vigilance for any related illnesses were definitely in place.

She told Barbados TODAY that from the time reports had surfaced indicating an issue in Haiti, Barbados had beefed up its own surveillance and that had not subsided.

St. John said as well that Senior Medical Health Officer, Dr. Karen Springer had been conducting meetings every week to get updates on any health issues of note and every health institution had been instructed to submit their own cholera plans going forward.

“That sensitisation and getting people to write the plans has continued. There are only a few institutions that are outstanding. We have alerted them that they need to put something in place in terms of having the final document, but most of them have at least a far advanced and discussed draft and for most of them, it is just like three or four that haven’t done, most of them have completed a report that is part of what we are compiling for the country,” she said.

St. John said that contact had been made with the Haitian Chargé D’Affaires, Donna Forde about the island’s concern and that information had been forwarded to be circulated.

“We are in the process of giving her flyers that she has asked for to take to cholera belt that any persons, any Barbadians coming home that have those particular symptoms would know what to do. She was going to use that information also for anyone that was coming to the Diaspora conference, so from that perspective that link with Haiti, we have done it through Foreign Affairs and tried to be very specific about targeting Barbadians or anyone coming from Haiti, especially the cholera belt.

“In that information we have given her, we’ve asked her to specifically say if they have symptoms and we have given her contact information,” said the CMO.

This, she added, applied to students who would normally study in Cuba, and Forde had promised to continue to keep an eye on the student population in the cholera affected countries.

“We are tying our best. That is why we have the outreach. The last batch would have had recent examinations and they pass through me. At the time they left here they were healthy. Have to stick close to the Bajans and she has been very helpful with this link.”

She said she had also had meetings last week looking at the surveillance in local labs, as well as issues to do with training among at risk groups as to the signs to look for and maintaining links to the private sector.

“There is a level of preparedness generally for any gastro intestinal illnesses. We have had gastro-intestinal illnesses and we have been monitoring by laboratories so we know what is circulating… We have sent out to our doctors and the general public specific tips on what they should and should not do with people who are ill.

“We have not sent out anything specifically to do with cholera but anytime the doctors will see the signs and symptoms that would be suggestive of cholera, they would already have been detailed to that and they would alert us.

“We do not have any cholera in country. What we would be looking for is signs of an importation that we would have to try to wall off and isolate and contain in that way so it does not get into the general population and especially not into the water,” said the chief.

Stressing that surveillance for cholera and other gastro-related illnesses had not only just begun, she stressed: “How we try to do it is that we have certain things running, no matter what. As soon as there is a specific issue, we just ramp up. We have a baseline of surveillance and preparedness going on so we do not have to do too much more to really sensitize the public.” (LB)

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