PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, November 9, 2014 (AMG) — CARICOM Heads of Government last week convened a special summit to establish an action plan to deal with the Ebola Virus Disease that has resulted in just over 4,800 deaths in West Africa.
While the meeting accepted that the likelihood of penetration by the Ebola virus in the region was low, Summit Chair, Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda, noted that even one case of the disease would mean disastrous consequences for CARICOM Member States.
The plan: Billed as ‘Stop Ebola There and Here’ (SETH), the plan created a regional rapid response team (Carib React) led by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), which will be charged with the mandate to deliver an on-the-ground response to suspected cases anywhere in the Caribbean Community within 24-hours of notification.
Leaders also agreed to harmonise travel restrictions, currently unevenly implemented by Member States; develop a region-wide public education campaign; and establish a regional coordinating mechanism, which will include the cooperation of the Government of Cuba. Costs for the implementation of the plan run in excess of US$7 million, with leaders conceding that as-yet-undefined external funding would be needed to assist with the regional effort.[toggles style=”toggles”][toggle title=”CARICOM’s 10-point action plan in full”]Heads agreed to –
1. Strengthen effective, coordinated measures at ports of entry to prevent Ebola from entering the Community, including harmonising travel restrictions;
2. Strengthen health systems including training, equipment, laboratories and containment, and enlist the participation of airlines in the region in transporting specimens and response teams;
3. Create a regional rapid response team (Carib REACT) able to reach any Member State in 24 hours to support the national response team to contain/stop an outbreak early on;
4. Launch an intensive public education campaign for citizens of the region, visitors and those outside;
5. Organize a comprehensive resource mobilisation effort including a possible Stop Ebola There and Here (SETH) Fund, to which governments, citizens and businesses may donate;
6. Finalise and implement the harmonised regional operational response plan by end-November, coordinated with national response plans;
7. Participate in capacity-building efforts at the global and regional levels to gain experience for regional benefit;
8. Establish a regional coordinating mechanism on Ebola (RCME) with CARPHA as chair, including the CARICOM and OECS Secretariats, IMPACS, CDEMA, and the Government of Cuba. The RCME will report to the lead Head of Government on health, Dr Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis, with the immediate responsibility to develop a comprehensive regional strategy to address Ebola preparedness in collaboration with PAHO/WHO;
9. Invite PAHO/WHO, the United Nations, other development partners and contributors to a meeting within one month to expand the effectiveness of the collective response;
10. Review and reinforce the effectiveness of existing at the inter-sessional meeting of Conference in February 2015, and again at the regular meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government in July 2015.[/toggle][/toggles]
Collective responsibility: Reiterating his previous positions on the Ebola crisis, Prime Minister Browne said that the potentially grave economic and social consequences of the disease meant that no CARICOM Member State should be made to face the public health challenge on its own.
As it relates to funding for the plan plan, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, stated that while US$7 million was earmarked to support the work of CARPHA, there would need to be national, regional and international efforts to secure further financial assistance. Potential sources of these funds, and the excess required beyond CARPHA’s cover, were not fully articulated.
So far, there have been no reported cases of Ebola in the Caribbean. Outside of the West Africa region, there have been cases in the United States and Spain.
Image: CARICOM Secretary-General, Amb. Irwin LaRocque engages the Hon. Freundel Stuart, Prime Minister of Barbados before the 17th Special Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM on Public Health matters, Diplomatic Centre, Trinidad and Tobago, 4 November, 2014. Also in photograph is Ms. Glenda Itiaba, Chef de Cabinet, Office of the Secretary-General, CARICOM Secretariat. Credit: CARICOM Secretariat