WE can no longer ignore the disease that is now sweeping the world known as coronavirus or COVID-19 in its abbreviated form.
For us in Saint Lucia it is not a matter of if but rather that of when it will make an appearance.
Therefore, on that basis we should be saying, like the Nigerian authorities are saying, “We are ready for it”.
And that preparedness should consist of a readiness to take drastic measures, in an instance if necessary, to curb the spread.
It is with this in mind that that we note the equanimity in which the Ministry of Health and Wellness is dealing with preparation to withstand the threat. This calmness of mind which the Ministry is displaying in setting up its defence structure, in light of the imminent arrival of the virus, should be a lesson to everyone that panicking is not a desirable element in keeping the virus away from us..
We are heartened to hear from the Minister responsible for Saint Lucia’s Health and Wellness that healthcare workers are continuously trained, and medical protocol including infection prevention and control, as well as Clinical treatment guidelines have been shared with all health institutions on island.
Further that isolation and quarantine facilities have been identified, medication and equipment has been procured to manage the expected increases in respiratory cases. And that a referral plan has been organized to facilitate treatment at one isolation unit.
Even more encouraging is knowing that equipment to facilitate testing for COVID-19 has been procured and shipped and the seven-day training for the laboratory staff is scheduled to commence with the arrival of the equipment. The present capacity of the hospital isolation unit is 15 beds.
Minister Mary Isaac Tuesday also mentioned the ongoing sensitization of non-healthcare workers, which includes, but not limited to Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Tourism, Tourism Authority, St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association, St. Lucia Air and Sea Port Authority, Chamber of Commerce, Police, the transportation sector including mini-bus operators and Taxi Associations.
Port Health services have also been enhanced with assessments having been done at all port facilities for the core capacities. Public Health training for border control officers has been done at all ports. The screening and surveillance of incoming passengers has also been enhanced. The collaboration between other agencies including Customs, Immigration and vessel agents has allowed information sharing and timely decision making. Personal Protective Equipment has been provided to border control agencies. Appropriate technologies have been employed to enhance surveillance of incoming passengers to Saint Lucia. Increased human resources are employed at ports of entry to facilitate port health coverage. Additional measures have been implemented for leisure vessels including the submission of Maritime Declaration of Health.
A communication plan has been developed as well, and as Minister Isaac pointed out, this prioritises awareness building and education on COVID-19 to reduce myths, misconceptions and miscommunication on the virus. The plan promotes health behaviours that reduce risk of exposure and infection and provides status updates on preparedness of stakeholders and agencies engaged in the national COVID-19 response.
She also said that extensive planning costing in excess of one million dollars, is ongoing to prepare for the possibility of the introduction of cases and in –country transmission. This includes but is not limited to the setup of community respiratory clinics at five specific locations for ambulatory care, and the expedited move of the Victoria Hospital to the OKEU hospital, to facilitate the transformation of Victoria Hospital to a Respiratory Hospital. The implementation of COVID-19 treatment teams for care is also being organized.
More of Isaac’s statement could be read elsewhere in this paper however we are pleased with the efforts to date with the Ministry’s preparation for the coronavirus that has disrupted the way of life of some countries and is seriously threatening that of others.