Kingstown, St Vincent — The first Council of Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) health ministers meeting held on last Thursday in Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, identified chikungunya and Ebola as the most urgent public health priorities facing the region at this time.
Given the actual and potential socio-economic impact of both diseases to the people across the region and the economies of the tourism dependent countries, ministers present appreciated the need to be proactive in responding to the spread and impact of chikungunya and the threat of Ebola.
To this end, the meeting invited several competent specialists from the OECS, CARPHA, OXITECH and Martinique and engaged in discussions on the critical issues.
In relation to chikungunya
Recognizing and empathizing with the many citizens and families in the OECS that are affected by chikungunya, 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 coordinated/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. The Council also expressed interest in having a pilot project undertaken in the use of genetic forms of vector control to be independently evaluated by CARPHA.
The OECS Commission is mandated to work in collaboration with CARPHA (i) to strengthen communication and education for community mobilization; (ii) to improve care and treatment especially in anticipation of the long term arthralgia and depression; and (iii) to conduct research and evaluate new technologies and identify good practices, and to develop a communication strategy to counter the 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 meeting, recognizing the peculiar vulnerability of small island states to the importation of Ebola, resource limitations and the critical role of health workers in addressing the epidemic agreed to:
– Pursue a nonpartisan approach to strengthen regional health security among OECS member states for an OECS harmonized regional approach
– 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
– Work closely with key stakeholders in tourism, travel and related sectors on protocols of prevention and decontamination to safeguard nationals and visitors from any harm
– Prepare and strengthen the health workforce in collaboration with their respective unions through the re-establishment of infection control procedures, the related training and use of the protective facilities and equipment
– Develop appropriate management treatment and care guidelines of persons seeking Ebola-related care and identify and develop appropriate facilities for isolation as well as the transportation and movement of persons affected with Ebola in each member state
– Explore and secure external arrangements and agreements including MOUs with other/partner countries to respond and support OECS member states in areas where there is limited capacity
– Pursue collective procurement procedures for appropriate goods, supplies and services including medicines, products and supplies using the OECS Pharmaceutical Procurement Service
– Increase communication within and between sectors, and the public with a view to share surveillance and contact tracing and for the ‘controlled’ movement of cases or suspected cases
– Develop appropriate laboratory support and procedures including sample collection, packaging and shipping, and develop MOU with regional airlines to facilitate the handling and transportation of samples and or patients if and as required
– Identify a taskforce to develop these actions further and mobilize the necessary resources to facilitate implementation of recommended actions for a harmonized response, and for the longer term, pursue with greater vigour implementation of the IHR, in collaboration with CARPHA
– With immediate effect, develop a regional plan with resource requirements including technical assistance for resource mobilization at various levels and from a variety of sources
– Lobby the international community to intensify support to affected Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and other affected Countries. This assistance should come as a moral imperative, until the epidemic is controlled at source, through human and other resource intervention, in response to the situation in affected countries. This will build regional capacity to respond locally in the unlikely event that there is a local case.