OECS Health Ministers say Chik-V and Ebola are urgent priorities

CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Monday October 20, 2014 – Health Ministers of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, OECS, have identified Chikungunya and Ebola as the most urgent public health priorities facing the region at this time.

In a statement issued Monday by the St. Lucia-based OECS Commission, the Ministers said that given the actual and potential socio-economic impact of both diseases to the people across the region and the economies of our tourism dependent countries, they appreciated the need to be proactive in responding to the spread and impact of Chikungunya and the threat of Ebola.

The Council of Ministers said they recognized and empathized with the many citizens and families within the OECS that are affected by Chikungunya, the negative publicity that has been generated by the Chikungunya outbreak and  the decline in productivity and the anticipated long term suffering.

It is against this background  that the Council of Ministers agreed to adopt an OECS coordinated/harmonized approach to the management of the Chikungunya epidemic.

Further, the Council endorsed an integrated approach involving community empowerment and a strengthened health sector response.

The Council has identified the need now to reengineer vector control programs giving high priority to entomological surveillance, resistance testing, facilitation of access to goods and services including medicated mosquito nets and repellents, through regional pooled procurement.

The Council also expressed interest in having a pilot project undertaken in the use of genetic forms of vector control to be independently evaluated by CARPHA.

The OECS Commission is mandated to work in collaboration with CARPHA to:

    Strengthen Communication and Education for Community mobilization
    Improve Care and treatment especially in anticipation of the long term arthralgia and depression,
    Conduct Research and evaluate new technologies and identify good practices, and to develop a communication strategy to counter the negative publicity.

Countries were also advised to give attention to key ‘economic’ settings including health facilities, hotels and guest houses, ports of entry, as well as schools and workplaces.

The meeting, recognizing the peculiar vulnerability of our small island states to the importation of Ebola, our resource limitations and the critical role of health workers in addressing the epidemic agreed to:

    Pursue a nonpartisan approach to strengthen Regional Health Security among OECS Member States for an OECS harmonized regional approach
    A harmonized immigration approach and the development of protocols and procedures for border control in consultation with immigration, legal and health authorities including the extension of travel bans on persons from affected countries
    Work closely with key stakeholders in tourism, travel and related sectors on protocols of prevention and decontamination to safeguard nationals and visitors from any harm
    Prepare and strengthen the health workforce in collaboration with their respective Unions through the re-establishment of infection control procedures, the related training and use of the protective facilities and equipment
    Develop appropriate management treatment and care guidelines of persons seeking ‘ebola’ related care and identify and develop appropriate facilities for isolation as well as the transportation and movement of persons affected with ebola in each Member State
    Explore and secure external arrangements and agreements including MOU with other/partner countries to respond and support OECS Member States in areas where there is limited capacity
    Pursue collective procurement procedures for appropriate goods, supplies and services including medicines, products and supplies using the OECS Pharmaceutical Procurement Service
    Increase communication within and between sectors, and the public with a view to share surveillance and contact tracing and for the ‘controlled’ movement of cases or suspected cases
    Develop appropriate laboratory support and procedures including sample collection, packaging and shipping, and develop MOU with Regional airlines to facilitate the handling and transportation of samples and or patients if and as required
    Identify a taskforce to develop these actions further and mobilize the necessary resources to facilitate implementation of recommended actions for a harmonized response, and for the longer term, pursue with greater vigour implementation of the IHR, in collaboration with CARPHA
    With immediate effect, develop a regional plan with resource requirements including technical assistance for resource mobilization at various levels and from a variety of sources 
    Lobby the International Community to intensify support to affected Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and other affected Countries. This assistance should come as a moral imperative, until the epidemic is controlled at source, through human and other resource intervention, in response to the situation in affected countries. This will build regional capacity to respond locally in the unlikely event that there is a local case.

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