PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — A US-based infectious disease specialist says hospitals in Trinidad and Tobago would not be prepared if there is an outbreak of the deadly Ebola here.
“I’ve seen what San Fernando General Hospital looks like, I’m a Sando boy, and I know what Port of Spain General Hospital looks like—people coming in with fever, nausea and vomiting go to the ER (emergency room).
“To be honest with you, I don’t think the hospital would be prepared. Contingency plans have to be put in place,” said Dr Lennox Archibald, hospital epidemiologist for the Gainesville Veterans Administration Medical Centre in Florida, USA.
He was responding to questions by the Express during a breakfast seminar on infectious diseases, hosted by Brison Ltd at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, St Ann’s.
Archibald said even US hospitals are unprepared to deal with the disease.
“The average hospital is so complex. It’s like a maze, and people come in with fever, pains, and it’s difficult to say that the average hospital is prepared. In fact, the experts have said that US hospitals are not prepared,” he said.
Over the last few weeks, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan has remained adamant this country’s health care system is fully prepared to deal with an outbreak of the virus.
Just this week, the minister toured the new Ebola Isolation Unit set up at the Caura Hospital in El Dorado and announced several hazmat suits were purchased at a cost of US$20,000 each.
During his 45-minute presentation yesterday, Archibald said there should be no room for errors when it comes to tackling Ebola.
“It’s about getting down to every single detail, having a $20,000 suit is all fine, I would go out and buy one if I had the money, but health care workers should undergo a rigorous, training and practising competence in personal protective equipment (PPE),” he said.
“Just having a PPE is nothing; it is something that we have to focus on. There should be no skin exposure when PPE is worn. All workers should be supervised by a trained monitor. The whole process of using the suit is a complex process. This is hard work which needs leadership from the top,” Archibald said.
He noted PPEs should not only be worn by staff taking care of patients but also by those who are cleaning the entire area contaminated by the disease.
“It’s every Tom, Dick and Harry who have to wear the PPE, even in lab testing staff, they have to wear the PPE,” he said.
He went on to pose the question: where does Trinidad and Tobago stand with regard to preparedness at the end of 2014?
“Let me answer by addressing it from the US point of view. Personally, my former boss at the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), Dr Will Jarvis, said this: American hospitals and ERs are not prepared. Technology and sophistication does not translate to being prepared for this.
“I’m not in a position to speak to Trinidad and Tobago and the commitment of the Ministry of Health, but this is something that we need to think about.”