St. Maarten prepares for Ebola

POSTED: 10/15/14 7:32 PM

St. Maarten – “Let us be very vigilant, but don’t panic.” These cautionary words came from Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Cornelius de Weever at a press conference on ebola on Monday. The health minister acknowledged that the risk is low, but noted that St. Maarten has an intervention management team in place, in the event of a case of ebola on the island.

Minister de Weever, public health officials and representatives of all stakeholders involved met on Monday to update the public of St. Maarten about the measures that have been taken and that are being taken to address the Ebola virus disease (EVD).  He added that the islands public health officials are in contact with the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization (WHO). “Let the public know, rest-assured, we are being proactive.”

Present at the conference—which was moderated by Maria Henry, general health section–was Dr. Virginia Asin, head of Collective Prevention Service (CPS), who recently attended a conference on Ebola preparedness at the Pan American Health Organization in Washington, D.C. “We are still up-to-date,” said Dr. Asin. She added that even though the chances are very small, preparedness has to be in place for everyone in the chain of response.

Cylred Richardson, head of the Ambulance Department at St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC), said that already measures have been taken in preparing the staff to respond to a person suspected of having the virus, since ambulance staff members “are the first line of response.” The staff has been trained to ask the necessary questions to determine whether someone may or may not have the virus, such as, “Have you recently visited a country where there is an outbreak of ebola?” and “Have you recently been in contact with someone who has ebola?” They have been trained how to effectively wear the protective gear (gowns, caps, facemasks and shoe coverings) and how to properly dispose of it as hazardous material. Richardson said that once a patient has been brought to the hospital, the ambulance response staff would then clean the ambulance itself with household bleach, while wearing protective gear. Accompanying Richardson was Deputy Head of the ambulance department Dr. Daphne Illis.

“Prevention is better than care,” said Antonio Pantophlet, manager of patient care and education at SMMC. He said that SMMC has a contingency plan already in place with the necessary ebola protocol. The hospital has equipped isolation rooms for patients.

Glenda Severin, infection control practitioner, SMMC, said that the threat of ebola “seemed so far away in Africa, but our ports are open,” which is why the hospital has an ebola preparedness plan in place to provide healthcare workers with a plan to treat patients with the virus. She went on to say that workers have been trained to properly put on and remove their protective gear. “The cost is too high not to know.”  She asserted that the guidelines used by SMMC staff to treat an ebola patient have been set forth by the World Health Organization. An issue that still needs looking into is how to dispose of the biohazardous waste from the isolations rooms with infected persons.

Corporate communications specialist at Princess Juliana International Airport Kalifa Hickinson said that the airport has also taken the necessary steps in Ebola preparedness. She added that airport staff is kept updated and informed by doctors who know about the virus. The Ministry of Health recently provided workers with an information session on ebola. The airport building itself is equipped with an isolation room, and protocol has been put in place. Echoing Minister de Weever’s advice, Hickinson said, “We need to remain vigilant.”




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