Clear and present danger
While one might be able to pray or talk one’s way into paradise, it is highly unlikely that expressions of confidence and statements of intent alone from local authorities will prevent the Ebola virus from reaching Barbados’ shores.
We cannot do enough to prepare ourselves for the likelihood that Ebola reaches these shores. Our airport and seaport remain vulnerable and authorities must commit themselves to doing everything possible to upgrade their monitoring and preventative measures with respect to the disease. Logistically, our main hospital and polyclinics are ill-equipped and incapable of dealing with any major outbreak of Ebola. Our quarantine facilities have limited capacity and would be unable to accommodate significant numbers affected by the virus. Thus prevention appears highly more manageable for us than cure.
With all their sophistication and health protocols, not to mention their first-world status, countries such as the United States and Spain have already seen their first cases of Ebola. The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, England and France have also treated persons at home who brought the virus with them from West Africa. Some of these nations have expressed concerns about their capacity to deal with a major outbreak of the deadly threat. Therefore, prevention and limiting the possibility of the disease’s spread is their main focus.
Yesterday the World Health Organisation’s European director Zsuzsanna Jakab stated that the disease would inevitably spread through Europe, though the continent was well-prepared to deal with it.
“It is quite unavoidable … that such incidents will happen in the future because of the extensive travel both from Europe to the affected countries and the other way around,” she said.
Scientists who have been tracking the Ebola outbreak as well as airline traffic data have predicted a high risk of the disease being brought into Europe unwittingly in people traveling without knowing they are infected.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control which monitors disease in the European Union, indicated yesterday that while there was a small risk of travellers bringing Ebola into Europe without knowing it, the region’s public health authorities could effectively detect and confirm cases of the Ebola virus and work against its further spread.
Meanwhile in our neck of this global village, we are not satisfied that all is being done to ensure that Ebola does not enter Barbados. We are not comfortable with the level of preparedness to combat Ebola if it does reach. The effect such an eventuality would have on our social and economic stability would be devastating and we believe our response and preparations at this stage should reflect the absolute peril we would face, especially as a tourist destination.
We are not aware of what is happening at the constituency level, but nationally, the political directorate appears asleep at the wheel once again. We note that President of the United States Barack Obama and the British Prime Minister David Cameron have been particularly active in their intercourse with health officials in their respective countries with respect to the disease. While Minister of Health John Boyce and other health officials have publicly addressed the threat of Ebola, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s silence on the issue has led some to quip that he has already gone into quarantine.
But the threat of Ebola is one where there should be visible signs that measures are being put in place to deal with any eventuality. Are people in the workplace being sensitised about the disease and safety measures to be adopted? Have health officials been going into our schools? Have authorities embarked on any programmes to demonstrate the proper use of protective equipment in dealing with Ebola-affected persons? Has any consideration been given to demonstrating the proper handling and disposal of Ebola-affected corpses? Have there been any health drills carried out in the public and private sector under the guidance of the Ministry of Health specifically related to Ebola?
We note that there has been an attempt to educate the public via the electronic, broadcast and print media on the danger which Ebola poses. These must be sustained and enhanced and should become part of the daily diet of communications.
Those charged with manning our points of entry are critical to the preventative efforts and must be on a heightened sense of alert, especially as it relates to screening of individuals and their documentation. Tough as it might seem, this is the easier job in the equation.
If Ebola slips past their scrutiny, a much graver task awaits us all.