Is The Threat of Ebola Over?

by Dr Martin Forde

It is quite illuminating to see how transient the human attention span is. Just a few months ago, it seemed that no one was talking about anything other than the Ebola Armageddon that was certain to overwhelm our global community, including the Caribbean quarters, leaving hundreds, thousands, (millions?) of victims in its wake.

World interest in the December 2013 outbreak of Ebola peaked in October 2014, but since then has steadily faded in the face of more gruesome, violent assaults on our civil societies. There have been tragic plane crashes and even more tragic stories of terrorists killing people while they are at work or just happening to live in a village or town where some ‘terrorist’ organization wants to make a statement by killing all its inhabitants.

Juxtaposed against these exigent demands for our attention, one could argue that the Ebola crisis simply must take a back seat for now. But before we quickly do so, please note that this doesn’t mean that the 2013 Ebola outbreak has come to a complete end. Indeed, it most certainly has not.

To date, over 21,000 cases of Ebola have been reported in 8 countries, of which over 8,400 have died. By far, the vast majority of these Ebola cases and deaths have occurred in only three African countries – Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. While there have been recent indications that the numbers of new cases may be stabilizing or even decreasing in these three Ebola intense-transmission countries, still each week, hundreds of new persons are contracting this terrible disease and many continue to succumb to its potent assault on the human body.

During the latter half of 2014 when Ebola fear had reached epidemic proportions, many governments around the world, including those in the Caribbean, scrambled to make preparations for what almost everyone thought was going to be the eventual arrival of this dreaded disease on our shores.

While several knee-jerk reactions were made, the overall desire to check our ‘house’ and make sure that we could survive a direct hit by Hurricane Ebola were indeed warranted and necessary. True, the chances that Ebola would come to Grenada or anywhere else in the Caribbean for that matter were – and still remain – very slim. That said, as Hurricane Ivan painfully taught all Grenadians in 2004, slim does not mean zero.

A scan of what many researchers and public health officials have said over the course of this current Ebola outbreak clearly indicate that they are having a hard time predicting where it will show up next. Initially, many thought that Ebola would spread like a ravenous wild-fire from the three West African intense-transmission countries throughout the whole continent of Africa. Others thought that Ebola cases would start popping up at most major cities of the world given the ease at which people can travel and access any where in the world they wish to go. So far, none of these dire (and frightening!) scenarios have played out. Indeed, to date, a grand total of four Ebola cases have been diagnosed in the U.S. And as for the Latin American and Caribbean region, the number is (most thankfully) stuck on zero. Indeed, the above numbers certainly do not justify putting Grenada or any other country other than the three Ebola stricken countries on Red Alert.

Now while a ‘Red Alert’ isn’t currently justified, this should not mean ‘No Alert.’ Indeed, to adopt such a position would be tragic and potential fatal. A key reason why the 2013 Ebola outbreak spiraled from a small outbreak in Guinea to one where the whole world collectively thought this virus could by the 21st Century version of the Middle Ages Black Plague was precisely because no one, including the global health policing institution, the World Health Organization (WHO), initially took it seriously.

The outcome of this initially bland response is on stark display for all to see, at least in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. If we are to learn and benefit from this tragic misstep, it would thus be most prudent and wise if our Grenadian authorities were to take a quick check to see what has become of our initial, somewhat panicked, efforts to ‘put our house in order.’

In Grenada, the government, primarily though it’s Ministry of Health and it small but very committed staff, embarked upon several reviews of its policies and procedures. Additional personal protective equipment kits were ordered for the healthcare personnel who would have to treat any Ebola infected person. Several key persons received training locally and abroad. Indeed, serious efforts were made to see if Grenada could (would) be in a position to adequately and appropriately deal with any Ebola infected person.

The question now to be asked and answered is: Where are we in our preparations? Has all training that was identified as needed to deal with any Ebola outbreak been completed? Have all resource needs and gaps in our healthcare facilities been filled? Have the necessary protocols and procedures needed to treat any Ebola infected person arriving on our shores been clearly spelt out and all trained on how to implement them?

Again, while the threat of Ebola making an appearance in Grenada for 2015 remains very low, this shouldn’t prevent us from making all the preparations required as though we were expecting its arrival any day now. Time and fortune has been very kind to us. Let us not take this blessing for granted but rather make it count.

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