Govt must put people first


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Category: Health Care 19 Oct 14


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 routes.

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 easy response.

“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 skin.”

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 country.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur