CASTRIES: Health ministers from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) say the Ebola and Chikunguyna viruses are the “most urgent” public health priorities facing the region.
According to a statement issued by the St. Lucia-based OECS Commission, the ministers, who met in St. Vincent last week, said that given the actual and potential socio-economic impact of both diseases to the region they appreciate the “need to be proactive in responding to the spread and impact of Chikungunya and the threat of Ebola”.
The statement said that several specialists from the Caribbean gave presentations at the meeting and noted the negative publicity that has been generated by the Chikungunya outbreak, the decline in productivity and the anticipated long term suffering.
“The Council of Ministers agreed to adopt an OECS co-ordinated/harmonized approach to the management of the Chikungunya epidemic. Further, the Council endorsed an integrated approach involving community empowerment and a strengthened health sector response.
“The Council has identified the need now to reengineer vector control programs giving high priority to entomological surveillance, resistance testing, facilitation of access to goods and services including medicated mosquito nets and repellents, through regional pooled procurement,” it said.
The ministers also expressed interest in having a project undertaken in the use of genetic forms of vector control to be independently evaluated by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
The statement said that the OECS Commission has been mandated to work in collaboration with CARPHA to strengthen communication and education for community mobilization and to improve care and treatment.
The Commission will also co-operate with CARPHA in conducting research and evaluate new technologies, identify good practices and develop a communication strategy to counter negative publicity.
“Countries were also advised to give attention to key ‘economic’ settings including health facilities, hotels and guest houses, ports of entry, as well as schools and workplaces,” the statement said.
Regarding the Ebola virus outbreak, the ministers agreed that there was need for a “non-partisan approach” to strengthen regional health security within the sub-region given “our resource limitations and the critical role of health workers in addressing the epidemic”.
In addition, they decided to adopt a harmonized immigration approach and the development of protocols and procedures for border control in consultation with immigration, legal and health authorities, including the extension of travel bans on persons from affected countries.
The health ministers agreed with “immediate effect, to develop a regional plan with resource requirements including technical assistance for resource mobilization at various levels and from a variety of sources”.
The ministers also announced plans to lobby the international community to intensify support to countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea several impacted by the Ebola virus.