Coming to grips with Ebola
Ebola is no joke. There is nothing about this virus that would make it fit material for even the most skilful of comedians.
In fact, as deadly as the HIV and AIDS pandemic has been over the past quarter century, and despite the fact that it has killed tens of millions, the sense of fear that appears to accompany Ebola seems higher – if for no other reason than it is unlike HIV, where in a high percentage of the cases the individual’s lifestyle choices are at the root of their infection.
Not even the fact that Ebola is not known to be transmitted through the air or by water is serving to lessen the fear, and therefore the way our authorities engage citizens is going to be critical to building trust.
This we consider critical because if Barbadians do not believe the word of our health authorities, the first hint of a case on our shores, whether real or imagined, is going to cause a major panic. And we cannot afford that.
And that’s why the expressed view of president of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners, Dr Carlos Chase, that the island is not ready to handle even a single case of the virus is such cause for concern. For several weeks now the country has been assured by the leaders of our health ministry that all is well and we are ready.
There are a number of issues raised by Dr Chase to which we believe our health authorities should speak. Have we made provision for the handling of the bodies of persons who die from Ebola, given that the virus continues to live in the body for up to 60 days?
How many bodies can we handle simultaneously? Is cremation a safer option than burial? Has any arrangement been made with the local crematorium?
Then there are issues with health providers themselves. Has the Ministry of Health up to this date procured a single protective body suit that those who work with isolated patients will have to wear? Is there any indication of the number of health workers who appear reluctant to work directly with Ebola patients?
What procedures are in place to deal with such workers? Is there any reason to be concerned about the decision to locate the isolation centre in such a heavily populated area and in such proximity to so many other health facilities?
As we have stated in this space previously, we appreciate the fact that officials of the Ministry of Health have gone to great lengths to let Barbadians know how they have been preparing. As enquiring as the average Barbadian is, however, he is no doctor and therefore when someone of the stature, experience and training of Dr Chase questions those explanations, it can’t be unreasonable to ask for clarification.
We do appreciate the decision of Dr Chase to stand up and add his voice to the debate and we hope that those responsible for protecting the health of the nation will take a mature approach to the criticism and use it to ensure that any weaknesses in the system are corrected.
We are just weeks away from the peak travel period and many of our visitors will transit capitals that are themselves hubs for travellers from West Africa, where the virus has been most deadly. Mature and sensible handling of this matter is key to successfully riding out this potential superstorm.