Saturday, May 02, 2009 8:10 AM


Jamaica prepares for swine flu

BY ERICA VIRTUE Observer Writer

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

GOVERNMENT has moved swiftly to allay fears with the establishment of health desks at the island's ports of entry, in the wake of the outbreak of swine flu which broke out in Mexico last week and which has been sweeping the world since.

SPENCER. routine surveillance systems are in place to collect data

Health Minister Ruddy Spencer told Parliament yesterday that although there have been no reported case of the pandemic in Jamaica, the country has been placed on high alert.

"Routine surveillance systems are in place to collect data from selected diseases and conditions such as fevers and respiratory illnesses from sentinel sites and through hospital surveillance," Spencer told Parliament yesterday.

According to the minister, there has been heightened surveillance activities at health care facilities at the country's ports of entry.

Said the minister: "Immigration and other port workers have been alerted. We already have health desks at these ports and additional public health teams have now been assigned to the ports."

He also announced that informal ports were being monitored.

According to Minister Spencer, antivirals have been found to reduce the severity of the disease and that the World Health Organisation has a stockpile of appropriate drugs to benefit the region in the event of an outbreak. Two drugs - Tamiflu and Zanamivir - are recommended for the treatment and prevention of the disease.

The minister said government had begun distributing health alert cards with information on the diseases, while precautionary measures to be taken on how to contact health workers.

In addition, health sector workers in the public sector have been sensitised to ensure early detection and diagnosis submission of appropriate specimen.

The government's mobilisation efforts he said, involved all regions, hospitals and medical groups, in training as well as the implementation of the emergency plan.

In addition, Spencer said a co-ordinated public awareness and education plan was being reviewed and implemented with daily press releases and materials to start distribution today.

The ministry's command post, he said, has also been activated as a precautionary measure to ensure co-ordination of government's response.

A toll-free line has also been opened to members of the public. The number is 1-888-663-5683.

The director in charge of the command is Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse, who is the ministry's chief spokesperson on the disease.

A senior technical team from the ministry has also been engaged in tele-conferences with the head of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and teams from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA, as well as Health Canada, to obtain up-to-date information on the virus and its characteristics, as well as the best strategies to minimise the spread and control outbreaks, if any.

The minister, in the meantime, has implored the public to remain calm, and also urged travellers to Jamaica to give accurate information to health teams and immigration officials.

Government has also encouraged the public to practise good hygiene, with frequent hand washing with soap water, or the use of a sanitiser.

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