By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FREE National Chairman Darron Cash yesterday criticised the government’s response to the potential threat of an Ebola case as “laid back” given the enormous risk the disease poses for the country’s tourism-driven economy.
He added that he does not think the country is ready for an Ebola case, despite assurances from officials that the country is on high alert for the possibility.
Mr Cash called for a full briefing on the government’s national plan, particularly equipment readiness, decontamination and waste control protocols, and co-ordination with the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In a press statement yesterday, he pointed to reports that a health care worker who might have had contact with the disease in Texas had been quarantined on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.
According to reports yesterday, the woman has tested negative for the disease.
However, Mr Cash said the scare “has enormous implications for the Bahamas”.
“The Bahamas receives an estimated 4.2 million tourists annually, and a significant percentage of them come ashore and interact with Immigration, Customs and police officers, taxi drivers, hair braiders, store clerks, surrey drivers and others. The potential reach of a single individual can be broad.”
Mr Cash continued: “The experience of the cruise passenger reflects the reality of just how quickly America’s phenomenally small experience of less than 150 ‘Ebola-related risks/contacts’ can reach the islands of the Caribbean. The lesson for the Bahamas should be crystal clear: we should have been ready.
“We are not ready. We now need to get ready, remain ready and well-drilled and take nothing for granted.”
There have been three confirmed cases of Ebola in America, which is the closest country to the Bahamas with confirmed cases, according to the CDC. Two nurses in Texas who cared for Ebola patient Thomas Duncan, who died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital earlier this month, have tested positive for the virus. Duncan entered the US from Liberia.
On Friday, Obama administration officials confirmed that a Carnival Magic passenger, who had handled a lab specimen from the Liberian man, was voluntarily self-quarantined on the cruise ship despite the fact that she had shown no signs of illness.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Dallas health care worker had tested negative for the disease, and the cruise ship was back in port in Texas.
This follows reports that Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and St Lucia last week announced immediate travel bans on anyone who would have come from or through Ebola-affected countries of West Africa, namely Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
In response to whether the country was also considering a ban, Dr Glen Beneby, chief medical officer (CMO) in the Ministry of Health, said workers at the ports were being educated and their awareness of Ebola increased. He said the country was prepared to close its ports to those travelling from Ebola-affected regions if it became necessary.
While he acknowledged that there were different levels of readiness among islands, Dr Beneby said that every island is ready to deal with the disease.
Officials also said that by Wednesday, every major Family Island or clinic will have the necessary equipment to deal with a possible Ebola case.
Earlier this month the Ministry of Health released a 51-page Ebola Preparedness and Response Plan, which was heavily scrutinised by some government and healthcare personnel for its lack of public education and medical training.
There is a brief section in the report addressing port surveillance, which requires medical officers to be on call and to be accessible 24 hours a day. It does not call for screenings of travellers at ports of entry.
The Ebola virus is a severe disease characterised by a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat.
These symptoms may be followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some in cases both internal and external bleeding.
Symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure to Ebola virus, although eight to ten days is most common, according to the CDC.
In an updated statement sent out on Friday, the Ministry of Health advised travellers with Ebola-like symptoms to consult a health care provider or contact the ministry’s surveillance unit within 21 days of entering the country.
Contact numbers for the Surveillance Unit are: 502-4776, 502-4790, 397-1021, or 376-3533.