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Health ministry moves to deal with deadly disease

Patients’ room to have own storage facility

BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor – special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 26, 2014    

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THE Ministry of Health has started the refurbishing of a section of a public hospital in the Corporate Area to be used as an isolation unit to house persons showing symptoms of Ebola, should the deadly virus reach Jamaica's shores.

Director of Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse said preparation for such a unit started even before the Ebola's outbreak, as part of Jamaica's readiness to deal with incidents of cholera.

"We went through training sessions in our preparedness for cholera and it is the same precautions that will be utilised; each hospital will be able to operate on the basis that we say if you have one suspected case where would you put them or if you have five or 10 or so on," she explained.

Dr Bullock DuCasse and a team from the ministry, headed by Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, were addressing Jamaica Observer journalists at the newspaper's weekly Monday Exchange at the newspaper's head offices in Kingston.

"We are having a workshop today (yesterday) to meet with senior health teams from all hospitals and health departments from a wide cross section of categories and we are giving them the required information to see what gaps exist," she said.

She noted that while all hospitals have isolation rooms to handle communicable diseases this unit is being specially designed and steps are being taken to acquire additional equipment, among them personal protective equipment.

"We do have the gloves, the gowns and the mask and we also have the suits that you see on TV and now we are looking to see how we can ramp up the system," she stated.

Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health Dr Kevin Harvey, in explaining how the four-bed facility will work, said it will be a self-contained unit consisting of a special room for health workers to get dressed and gowned, while the patients' room will have its own storage facilities, a self-contained garbage mechanism to control infectious material going out as well as its own air conditioning system with a one way pressure flow.

"This facility will also be able to host any kind of infectious patient from Ebola to Tubercolosis to Cholera," he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Bullock DuCasse said that as part of the World Health Organisation Ebola recommendations, Jamaica has been asked to heighten surveillance to ensure that the country is able to detect, diagnose and ensure rapid containment. In doing so, Jamaica, she said, has to ensure the health facilities have the relevant isolation rooms and that the staff is trained to use standard precautions given that nine per cent of those now affected in West Africa are health care workers.

A part of that surveillance, she said, begins at the port of entries although the recommendation is for the affected countries to ensure that persons displaying any signs or symptoms are not travelling.

At Jamaica's ports of entry passengers are screened based on the countries they have travelled to in the last six weeks, given that the incubation period for the virus is between two to 21 days.

"If one declares any of the countries which are on alert you will be referred to the port health staff, then they will take it to next step with more detailed request for information and if necessary we can go on to quarantine, or if any signs and symptoms have developed, then isolation," she explained.

Additionally, Dr Bullock DuCasse said flyers and posters will soon be available at both the arrival and departure lounges to further sensitise incoming and outgoing passengers.

"For persons leaving you can see if you are going to one of the countries affected so you can stop to think if you really want to go or if you do go what symptoms to look out for," she said.

Meanwhile, Dr Ferguson reiterated that Jamaica is concerned about the virus getting into the country via the number of Jamaican entertainers who perform in African countries which have been impacted by Ebola such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

"It is very important that we give signal relative to non-essential travel going into those areas because Ebola has a mortality rate of up to 90 per cent of its victim," he said.

"I will also be asking my team to make a presentation to the Cabinet as it is important that us all as leaders recognise what could be the impact if we were to have our first case of Ebola.

On the other hand the health officials said Jamaica has been preparing for Chikungunya virus nearly three years ago.

Ferguson said Jamaica has a $12-million budget for dealing with Chikungunya through a joint approach with ministry of local government in treating mosquito sites.

Jamaica's preparedness for chikungunya is said to have started in 2012 when the Caribbean sub-region met in Jamaica to develop an overall plan which is being implemented now.

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