By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News
As fears about the spread of the Ebola virus mushroom across the U.S., several Caribbean nations have imposed travel bans on people arriving from West African states where the disease has taken a foothold.
Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia, St. Kitts-Nevis and St. Vincent & the Grenadines have all announced that anyone coming from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia would be denied entry into the respective island-nations and coastal states. Just as important, in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, people who visited those African states within the past six weeks would also not be allowed entry. That’s not all. Trinidadians and Tobagonians who visited the West African states on the list would be quarantined for 21 days when they return home.
At last count, 4,555 persons in affected countries have died from the disease and almost 10,000 were infected according to the World Health Organization in an effort to ward off the presence of the virus in various countries, ministries of health have heightened immigration screening; urged their own citizens to avoid traveling to places where the virus was entrenched; identified specific centers where Ebola carriers could be treated and quarantines; and launched health information campaigns to educate the public about the disease.
“We have to take every possible precaution to not only reassure our citizens, but to protect the country because if we don’t, the damage could be huge,” was the way Dr. Kenny Anthony, Lucia’s Prime Minister explained his government’s decision to impose the travel ban. “We are an extremely small country with limited resources and inexperienced in dealing with a global health crisis.”
In an interview with a Miami newspaper, Dr. Anthony said Caribbean countries must be equally concerned about visitors entering the region from the U.S. and Europe which recorded a few Ebola cases.
“The events in the United States have heightened awareness and reminded us how vulnerable we are,” said Dr. Anthony, one of the Caribbean’s legal luminaries and one of the region’s best known leaders. “We rely principally on tourism, and if, for example, there is any case in St. Lucia that sets off a chain reaction, we are going to be in very serious trouble.”
Meanwhile, the Caribbean Public Health Agency with headquarters in Trinidad and Tobago said the region hadn’t recorded any Ebola cases and Dr. James Hospidales, CARIPHA’s Executive Director said that the likelihood of cases being brought into the Caribbean was low. Still, he added, the region must move aggressively to comply fully with the international health regulations. No Caribbean country was in full compliance, he explained.
The Ebola picture across the Caribbean and Latin America was one of spirited activity to guard against any presence of the virus. For instance:
Colombia is denying visas to anyone who visited the worst affected areas of West Africa.
The Haitian government has asked international agencies to suspend the sending of employees to Haiti of any employees from Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia.
Jamaica had quantized an American at the airport after his arrival. He had visited Liberia two weeks prior to his arrival. Health officials examined him but found him “not to be exhibiting any symptoms of the Ebola virus. He was subsequently released and he returned to the U.S.
The CARIPHA executive director cautioned against travel bans warning they could “give rise to a false sense of security as they do not eliminate the risk” of the virus.
Belize, Caricom’s lone member state in Central America, refused to allow a woman, suspected of having the Ebola virus from disembarking from a cruise ship. The woman, a laboratory technician from Texas may have been in contact with blood samples taken from Eric Duncan, the American citizen who became the first victim of the disease in the U.S. He had traveled to Texas from Liberia where he was infected. Duncan subsequently died. She was eventually cleared of the virus.
Belize’s Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, said his government had a responsibility to protect its citizens from the disease.
“The countries, need to strengthen their capacities, preparedness and response,” said Dr. Hospidales.