Tufton wants more training for contact tracing, quarantining

Tufton wants more training for contact tracing, quarantining

Editor at Large, South/Central Bureau

Monday, April 27, 2020

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, describing contact tracing and quarantining as the “backbone” of Jamaica's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, says expanded training to develop such skills in primary health care is a priority.

“Yes,” was Tufton's answer to the direct question of whether there will be targeted, expanded training to provide personnel to fill growing needs in those areas.

“We intend to unveil a public health plan now that will see us sustaining a fairly vigilant, responsive approach over the next year as it relates specifically to COVID-19 and the possibility of further community transmission…” Tufton told senior hospital staff and journalists during a visit to the Mandeville Regional Hospital on Friday.

“The truth of the matter is that the current contingent that we have will suffer burnout if they continue at this pace over the next months to come, and maybe a year to come, and we have to plan for next year on the assumption that the virus is going to be with us, is likely to spread…until the country develops a sort of immunity or resistance to the virus…” Tufton said.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned on the weekend that there is as yet no evidence that contraction of the virus builds immunity, a number of health specialists have theorised that this could prove to be the case as has happened with other coronaviruses.

The health minister, who visited the coronavirus isolation facility at the Mandeville Regional Hospital, said his ministry had to “put a plan in place to bolster and support the existing team on the ground”. More details would be given “not too long from now”, he said.

Tufton paid tribute to the primary health care system and staff such as public health nurses, public health inspectors, and community health aides, who “meet, assess, and interrogate” to find those who may have come into contact with people carrying the novel coranovirus.

“The issue of contact tracing and quarantining is to a large extent the open secret to the [relative] success so far in containing the virus. It is the backbone of this fight and it is a tradition we have in our own outreach and community functions. To my mind, it has proven to be extremely important as we go out identifying persons with a travel history who have been infected and do the necessary work to contain the spread of the virus…” he said.

He noted that while contact tracing was well established in the traditions of Jamaica's health care, in many other jurisdictions it was being spoken about as something new.

Tufton referred to two areas which had undergone COVID-19-related quarantine — Cornpiece in Clarendon, and Bull Bay, St Thomas — as examples of how quarantining arrangements and contact tracing had led to containment of the virus.

“Look at the virus and how it spreads, where one person can account for hundreds of others. If you are able to contain one person, what you are effectively doing is containing three or four hundred other persons, and then multiples of that…” he said.

“One of the lessons I have learnt and will reflect on, as one area of resource allocation, is the importance of our primary health care team on the ground working through the health centres, doing the outreach, and communicating with people.

“As we see the virus move…the management and control of that is going to be largely dependent on the work of our primary health care professionals on the ground, in particular the contact tracers. Wherever the virus is we have to control it, cauterise it, and minimise the risk,” Tufton said.

Medical officer for Manchester, Dr Nadine Williams; chief medical officer for Mandeville Regional, Dr Everton McIntosh; and chairman of the Southern Regional Health Authority (SRHA), Wayne Chen, hailed the work of medical teams and support staff, including the police, in Manchester and the wider region.

Chen singled out the contact tracers for “particular commendation”, hailing their creativity, bravery, and diligence in getting their jobs done even in the face of hostility at the community level.

He said he had received praise for how efficiently and sensitively contact tracers and other primary health care staff had dealt with people “who are often reluctant to cooperate”.

Emphasising the value of primary care, McIntosh observed that “if the virus is allowed to spread in an uncontrolled fashion, we won't be able to cope, we will not have enough beds, will not have enough ventilators, will not have enough doctors or health care personnel”.

Dr McIntosh said though the fear factor went up “a notch” with the initial coming of COVID-19, medical and support staff were doing a “tremendous job” at Mandeville Regional.

Up to Friday, there were 44 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Manchester, Clarendon, and St Elizabeth, which comprise the Southern Regional Health Authority. There were 27 in Clarendon, 12 in Manchester, and five in St Elizabeth. Up to the time of Tufton's visit on Friday, 10 COVID-19 patients had been discharged in the SRHA region, six in Clarendon, four in Manchester, and none yet in St Elizabeth.

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