By: Devina Samaroo
While regional officials have indicated that the deadly coronavirus may not reach the Caribbean, Guyana’s Opposition is urging authorities here to put systems in place to ensure the population is protected.
“This virus has the potential of reaching epidemic proportions and we should be ready as a country to address this situation,” says the country’s Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.
“We have to be ready for any possibility of an outbreak here in Guyana,” he reaffirmed.
With cases of the virus confirmed in the Americas and reports of a suspected case in neighbouring Brazil, the Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, has not yet addressed the nation on the matter.
The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China last year, and at least 18 people have died and more than 600 have been sickened by the disease.
Chinese authorities have imposed lockdown measures on five cities in an unprecedented effort to contain the outbreak, which has already been reported in at least eight other countries including the United States.
CAN THE CORONAVIRUS REACH GUYANA?
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has announced that there are no reports of the coronavirus in the Caribbean and that the immediate risk from this virus to the general public remains “low”.
CARPHA says it will continue to monitor the situation; however, the Agency is urging Member States, including Guyana, to be proactive and vigilant.
“They must reinforce surveillance measures at points of entry, communication strategies which emphasise good hand hygiene, and measures targeted at reducing the importation of this new virus to our shores,” emphasised Dr Joy St John, the Executive Director of CARHPA.
In the event that there is a suspected imported case of the coronavirus in the region, CARPHA confirmed that it has already made arrangements with partner public health agencies for testing within the next three weeks.
Additionally, CARPHA says it is committed to supporting its Member States in refining existing influenza preparedness plans, refreshing training of healthcare workers in universal precautions and the use of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), and implementing measures to protect the most vulnerable in our populations from developing the disease.
HOW CAN GUYANA PREPARE?
Despite the low risks, former Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy says it is never too early to start preparing and he has questioned why those in authority are seemingly mum on the situation.
“I know, were I the Minister of Health, I would have asked for a special Cabinet briefing and would have had by my side already technical support from PAHO and CARPHA. Were I Minister of Health, I would have already convened a meeting of my staff to discuss and put together our response strategy,” Dr Ramsammy told this publication in an invited comment.
He reflected on his time as the country’s Minister of Health and the criticisms he faced for “overreacting” to such situations.
“When I was Minister, my proactive strategy used to be called fear-mongering by some. And there is the possibility of overreacting. But for me, it was always better to be caught over-reacting, than under-reacting or caught without a plan,” Dr Ramsammy explained.
He outlined that authorities should start preparing to conduct rigid surveillance at all ports of entries; put systems in place to check for respiratory symptoms, compile a treatment and care guideline and ensure that first responders and healthcare providers are duly advised; establish safe-zones in hospitals and quarantine areas; and garner a list of all medicines, medical supplies and other supplies needed in the event of an outbreak here.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not yet declared the coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern, as was done with Ebola and Zika.
But Dr Ramsammy noted that Guyana needs to be prepared in the event the infection becomes a global pandemic.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
These viruses are transmitted between animals and people.
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.
In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has advised that there is still “uncertainty about the new pathogen and the spectrum of manifestations it may cause, the source of infection, the mode of transmission, the incubation period, the severity of the disease and the specific control measures.”
While little is known about it, human-to-human transmission has been confirmed.
Currently, there is no vaccine.
But some experts say it may not be as deadly as other types of coronavirus such as SARS, which killed nearly 800 people worldwide during a 2002-2003 outbreak that also originated from China, Aljazeera reports.
The PAHO/WHO Guyana Country Office plans to hold a press conference next week to update the public on all they need to know about the coronavirus.