Gov’t activates National Emergency Response Mechanism


The Government has activated the national emergency response mechanism, with the Ministry of Health (MoH), as the lead agency, reviewing the cholera prevention plan of 1991 and devising a programme of action.
This move comes as neighbouring country Haiti continues to experience outbreaks of cholera, which has caused nearly 300 deaths up to (Oct. 26). Jamaica has not had a case of cholera in over 150 years, but Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding said given the country’s proximity to Haiti, and the interaction of citizens, the government is putting all precautionary measures in place.
“Island-wide surveillance and monitoring activities have been intensified as a prevention and preparedness measure in keeping with the cholera prevention plan. There are no reported cases of cholera in Jamaica”, Mr. Golding emphasized in a statement to the House of Representatives yesterday on the cholera outbreak in Haiti.
He informed that over the past few days, the MoH has been collaborating with other critical agencies to coordinate the country response and preparedness measures. “Yesterday (Oct. 26), I called a meeting with all relevant public sector entities to review ongoing precautionary measures and coordinate the next steps.the emphasis at this time is on heightened surveillance and public education. All health facilities have been placed on alert,” he told the House.
There is ongoing training of senior medical staff on the clinical identification, treatment, and management of cholera, while printed material has been dispatched to health facilities across the island. Similar training of community health workers will be conducted by the end of this week, Mr. Golding said.
He informed that adequate levels of oral rehydration fluids are in stock, while additional supplies have been ordered to ensure that health facilities are fully supplied. Meanwhile, laboratory testing will be done at various locations, and support is in place from the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre, which is also supplying additional reagents for testing. “Approximately 80 per cent of cholera cases can be successfully treated by the use of oral rehydration salts and fluids,” he noted.
Prime Minister Golding stressed the heightened need at this time to observe good hygiene practices such as regular hand washing, especially before preparing and ingesting food, and after sanitary functions; applying bleach to water used for domestic purposes; boiling drinking water or using purified bottle water; ensuring that food is thoroughly cooked; and avoiding contact with water that may be contaminated.
“At the first sign of symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting, it is important to drink lots of clean, safe water in order to prevent dehydration.persons experiencing any such symptom should seek medical attention immediately”, he urged, noting that chances of recovery are significantly higher, if cases are detected at an early stage. He said that public hospitals and clinics are on alert to treat any such cases.
Meanwhile, public health personnel and immigration officials are conducting precautionary screenings and inspections at all the country’s borders in keeping with international standards. “Airport surveillance for arriving passengers has been intensified and adequate medical personnel will be stationed at our airports to detect or respond to potential or apparent cases of infection,” the Prime Minister said.
Additionally, vessels arriving in the island, which may have called at ports in Haiti, will be boarded by quarantine officers and checked thoroughly before berthing.
Also, the Port Authority of Jamaica is holding discussions with cruise lines, whose itinerary include Haiti, on the appropriate measures being employed to prevent transmission of the disease.
“Coast Guard patrols have been increased to ramp up surveillance of small craft which ply between Jamaica and Haiti.close monitoring by the police and military is also being undertaken at specific beaches, which it is known, are used by small craft travelling from Haiti,” Mr. Golding further informed. There is also heightened surveillance by the JDF at the Pedro Keys where fishers interact with persons from Haiti.
The Ministry has begun a public education campaign, with public service announcements to sensitise the public on the preventative and precautionary measures that must be taken. Cholera-specific public education messages and features will start airing today (Oct. 27), and targeted public education activities, will start early next week, the Prime Minister said.
As it relates to tourism, Mr. Golding said the Jamaica Tourism Board (JTB) is in touch with marketing personnel, tour operators, travel agents and other key operatives to keep them abreast of the steps the government is taking to ensure that Jamaica remains a safe and healthy destination.
The Prime Minister said that even while Jamaica must do everything possible to keep itself free of cholera, the plight of the Haitian people cannot be ignored, who now face a fresh crisis even as they struggle to recover from the effects of the January earthquake.
“I have instructed the Ministry of Health to assemble a team of medical personnel to be available if the Haitian government so requires, and to be ready to go to Haiti to assist in the control and treatment of this disease,” Mr. Golding told the House.
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are the sudden onset of profuse watery diarrhea of up to one litre per hour, vomiting, abdominal pain, rapid increase in heart rate, dry skin and, sometimes, fever. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe.
Transmission is primarily through contaminated drinking water or food. The severity of the diarrhea and vomiting can lead to rapid dehydration and electrolyte imbalance and can result in death within hours if left untreated

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