Scientists predict that up to 1.2
million people will die from Ebola in the next six months. Ebola is
reportedly bigger than the scourge of HIV/Aids, and it is much more
easily spread. The UN claims the death toll from Ebola will rise this
week to more than 4,500 people from among the 9,000 infected, and the
outbreak is still out of control in the West African nations of Liberia,
Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The outbreak is hitting health workers
hard—with 427 medical workers infected and 236 dead— mainly because
Ebola victims are most contagious around the time they die.
The World Health Organization has
identified 14 African countries where being prepared and containing
Ebola is a top priority. Those countries are Benin, Cameroon, Central
African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Ghana,
Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, South
Sudan and Togo. They’ve been chosen because either they have land
borders with the affected countries or they have high travel or trade
I called the doyen of medicine in
Trinidad, Dr George Laquis (chairman of the T&T Cancer Society for 42
years and associate clinical professor at the University of Miami’s
Department of Family Medicine) wondering if it’s time for us to panic.
The first thing Dr Laquis said is that
the Government is correct to ban all ministers and government officials
from travelling to Ebola-affected areas, because all it takes is one
person infected with Ebola to start the spread of the virus here.
“Ebola spreads between humans by direct
contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly
through contact with contaminated environments.
Even funerals of Ebola victims can be a
risk if mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased.
“Signs and symptoms typically start
between two days and three weeks after contracting the virus, with a
fever, sore throat, muscle pain and headaches. Vomiting, diarrhoea and
rash usually follow, along with decreased function of the liver and
kidneys. Around this time, infected people may begin to bleed both
within the body and externally.
“Death, if it occurs, is typically six
to 16 days from the start of symptoms and is often due to low blood
pressure from fluid loss.”
Dr Laquis also agrees with Cabinet’s
position that anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Democratic Republic of
the Congo, Liberia and Nigeria, or anyone who has been there in the past
six weeks, will not be allowed entry into T&T.
“The Government is absolutely right in
stopping these people from entering T&T.
“We don’t have cases of Ebola. The trick
here is to make sure we don’t get any at all.
“All it takes is one handshake with
someone with a cut (it can be passed through sweat and other bodily
fluids). The number grows from two to four to 16. By Christmas, as many
as a million people may die from Ebola.”
However, Dr Laquis is far more cynical
about claims from Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan that the Government is
setting up an Ebola isolation unit at Caura Hospital to the tune of
millions of dollars. He also was not reassured by the efficacy of the
plan to spend “millions” to procure protective equipment for medical
professionals to treat citizens who may contract the virus.
“Poorer Caricom governments such as St
Vincent recognise that their only defence is to block people from coming
into the country.
“But we are talking big, of an isolation
centre. We all know, we all—including the politicians—talk a good story.
We are a spin-master nation, but we don’t take it or ourselves or anyone
else seriously. We don’t deliver. We are not serious. We don’t keep our
word. It may never happen.”
Is there anything you or I can do to
protect ourselves should we be in a situation close to the virus? There
have already been cases of Ebola in Spain and the US.
Dr Laquis came up with a startlingly
“Clorox. Some gyms in the US have a crew
wiping equipment with Clorox every hour.
“We should be doing that in Trinidad.
Ebola is passed on by sweat and can get into a mucous membrane or open
Dr Laquis says that had Ebola been
contained in Africa, it would not have had the kind of coverage it is
getting on major western networks—Fox and CNN, for instance. Now that
Ebola has reached the West, hit Spain and the US, he is more confident
that scientists will be working feverishly towards finding a vaccine
against this deadly virus.
Dr Laquis says we are not prepared to
deal with an outbreak here in T&T, just as we are not prepared for any
kind of natural or man-made disasters.
“Our healthcare system is, frankly,
third world. It can’t take any stress.
“We must take precautions. If we get
symptoms, report it—and hope for a vaccine soon. I don’t think any
country in the world is prepared for the magnitude of this scourge, far
less third world health sectors such as ours.”
I agree with Dr Laquis. The Government
got it right and in doing so, has protected citizens.
If they continue to
put people before PR, as they have in this instance, we could be a great