Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, this country’s Chief Medical Officer, named the relative strength of the local health industry as the primary factor that disqualifies SVG from accessing resources being made available by the Pan American Health Organization to battle the COVID-19 pandemic; since the quality of the local healthcare system does not satisfy the ‘weakened healthcare systems’ criteria which prompted that particular PAHO response.
While speaking to media audiences at Wednesday night’s announcement of the first recorded COVID-19 case here, she said, “our primary healthcare system has recorded significant, consistently, very strong figures in terms of the guides when you judge a healthcare system. You look at the neonatal mortality rate meaning how many children died in the first 28 days of life. You look at the maternal mortality rate which for the past 2 years have been zero, no maternal deaths. We look at the number of persons who – the proportion of children who are immunized and we’re above the recommended levels.
“In terms of the Sustainable Developmental Goals we have surpassed most of those. If we haven’t surpassed those we are near to them. St. Vincent’s health care system is strong…. We in St. Vincent and the Grenadines we have adequately competent, trained staff.
“We have a guaranteed, secure method of testing. We have excellent potable water, we can wash our hands and be confident. I do not think that PAHO was referring to SVG when they made that statement because we do not meet – rather let me put it another way – we far surpass the requirements, the indicators to say that we have a strong healthcare system.”
This strength would undoubtedly be tested as the demographics that are reported as being most severely affected are said to be of persons 60 years and older and/or persons who already endure health issues. Locally a remarkable percentage of the population are said to be suffering from non-communicable diseases which then puts them at greater risks of developing aggravated COVID-19 symptoms.
Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Jose Davy said, on Wednesday, “we want to pay special attention to our diabetics because being diabetic you’re already immune-suppressed. Also at risk would be the elderly as we heard, persons with high blood pressure and persons with cardiovascular disease. This rate increases because of the pneumonia that comes with COVID-19. The children under 9, thankfully, have not been so affected. We expect children to be severely ill with this disease but this is not happening and we thank God for that.”
According to the Health Ministry’s Chief Health Promotion officer Patsy Wyllie, “we have had the support of Dr. Jerol Thompson and he has met with persons living with HIV so that education is going on. Also we would be meeting with our diabetics and hypertensive – there are associations throughout our health districts – so we have started and we’re going to continue to work with them. And we are also relying on you, as yesterday you were told that you have a captive audience, in any minute you have hundreds listening to you, so are relying on you to help us reduce the spread of this disease.”
Health Minister Luke Browne detailed several interventions that are being implemented as part of his Ministry’s response to the sometimes fatal flu-like virus. “The Ministry is taking all necessary steps to prevent its local transmission in our communities. A health team was dispatched to the home of the patient to assess the situation and to initiate public health measures. Contact tracing to determine all the persons with whom the patient might have been in contact and therefore who may have been exposed to COVID-19 was initiated. The Ministry is in an advanced stage of setting up an isolation unit at Argyle. Two public hospitals can be used as isolation facilities.
“The equipment necessary to carry out in-country COVID-19 tests is being ordered. The Ministry will carry out a thorough health education campaign based on coronavirus in the communities, schools, churches and other groups. We would be relentless in our efforts to reach every member of our population with relevant information.
“Systemically, the Ministry has assessed the readiness of our health facilities to deal with the possible increase in demand for services; 2) is strengthening the state of equipment and supplies with a view to addressing any gaps. There is currently an adequate stock of personal protective equipment in-country for our health facilities. Additionally, an adequate supply or store of respiratory medicine for the next three months is on hand; 3) the Ministry continues the further training of healthcare providers, including on-going sensitization and training of personnel at the airports and seaports.”
Cognizant “that the public may be concerned and that there’s an element of uncertainty,” especially given that there are no vaccines or anti-viral medication to treat COVID-19 infections, Senator Browne encouraged persons in SVG “to adhere to standard and well known measures for the prevention of infections. Practice good hand, cough and sneeze hygiene. Wash your hands regularly. Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth with your hands. That is how the virus is spread.
“Avoid close contact when possible with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing. Keep a distance of at least 1 to 2 meters that is 3 – 6 feet from such a person…. When coughing and sneezing cover your mouth or nose with flexed elbow or tissue. Throw away tissue immediately afterwards and wash hands. If you have fever, cough or difficulty breathing seek early medical care and share previous travel history with your healthcare provider.”
Additionally, none essential travel is discouraged though no broad based travel bans are as yet enforced. Currently persons with a travel history that includes Iran, China, South Korea and Italy would be automatically quarantined for fourteen days. Quarantine requirements for persons travelling from Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan have been discontinued.
The Health Ministry reported that “approval was granted,” by Cabinet on March 6, “to implement active surveillance of persons with a travel history to countries with community transmission” of COVID-19. The release also noted that “quarantine of non-residents will be at a cost of the traveler.” And while “social distancing and limits on mass gatherings” are not yet instituted, they “will be considered.”