Health officials told Cayman residents at a public meeting at the Cayman Islands Hospital on Monday that the chances of Ebola coming to the Cayman Islands were “very, very remote.”
In the wake of reports of medical staff in the United States and Spain becoming infected by Ebola that had previously appeared to be confined to areas of West Africa, more than 50 residents attended the meeting that was called to address concerns about the disease.
Ebola is an infectious and generally fatal disease marked by fever and severe internal bleeding, and it is transmitted through body fluids. Countries with widespread transmission include the Western African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. There have also been cases reported in Nigeria, Spain, and the United States.
“I feel that exposed persons coming to Cayman, the chances are very, very remote,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar.
He added, “We need not panic at this point in time.”
Dr. Kumar said government agencies had met over the last few weeks and were developing skeleton plans should the virus ever emerge in Cayman.
He told attendees of the meeting that if there were a suspected case of Ebola in Cayman, the patient would not be sent overseas, but would be quarantined in a location outside of the hospital, and then their blood work would be sent overseas for testing.
“We are not 100 percent fully prepared, we don’t have everything here,” he admitted. “But we have a place identified where to keep [a patient] isolated. We have protective gear for the staff to wear while treating that person.”
He added, “If you ask me the question ‘Are you prepared fully?’ No. The answer is we are preparing for it,” he said. “We have been preparing in the Cayman Islands since the outbreak has escalated … We all had a brainstorming session based on what is happening around the world and what we need to do.” He said government agencies aimed to have a formal plan ironed out by mid-November.
But despite assurances from Dr. Kumar, some people who attended the meeting remained skeptical.
Resident Selvian Richardson said, “I’m glad you are giving us the assurance that the chances are slim to non-existent. However, by looking at the news, we heard the president of the United States, before an outbreak, giving those same assurances. I am wondering what we are doing other than the public education. Is there any training of staff or any special unit at the hospital or health facilities to accommodate as such?”
Dr. Kumar replied that before offering training to medical staff, public health officials had to go over the World Health Organization’s recommendations and order various protective equipment to manage a patient if a suspect case occurs.
“Are you screening people from the Dallas Fort Worth area?” asked resident Brandy Darby. Dr. Kumar answered, “We cannot do those travel restrictions,” but said health officials would be monitoring the outbreak in the United States over the next three weeks.
Joan Karen, who identified herself as an administrator for Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital, said she thought all local hospitals should join together to prepare for the Ebola virus.
“It is obvious that you have created plans. But for the three facilities to not plan with you would be foolish in that we need to centralize the ordering of equipment and training of staff,” she said.
“When will you have a directive available that we may join you in the planning for this to centralize the care should it occur. How much should we prepare, in terms of investment, because supplies will become limited worldwide?” she asked.
Dr. Kumar replied that all medical supplies would be kept with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pan American Health Organization, rather than in individual countries.
“If there is a suspected case, we will have support from CDC and PAHO, and there is a stockpile that they are keeping at the headquarters in PAHO, and they will supply if a suspect case occurs.”
He added, “That is the plan at this point in time. If this becomes a pandemic, and there are thousands of cases that are occurring, well, I think that God will take care of it.”
“We are taking stock of all the items, we have some items but we don’t have everything that is on that list, but we have some items that are necessary,” he said.
In the meantime, Dr. Kumar advised people to postpone any travel plans to West Africa. “Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, please don’t go. If you are a resident from those countries, don’t go to those places at this point in time,” he said. “For all of our residents, please don’t go to those countries.”
He said residents traveling to West Africa would not have access to high quality health care. “Please do not go to the area, if you go there they don’t have the care facilities, and you will not be able to get any help,” he said.
According to Dr. Kumar, there are 14 Nigerian nationals, and one Liberian national living in Grand Cayman at the moment. But he said, air passenger traffic from West Africa to the Cayman Islands was low, with three Nigerian nationals passing through Owen Roberts Airport since January.
Public health officials and the Cayman Islands Immigration Department have agreed amend the customs form to prompt travelers to include their travel history, said Dr. Kumar.
“Although our customs form does not have the question about your travel history in the [past] six weeks, I think it will be amended in due course,” he said. Meanwhile, immigration officers are “eliciting if there is any travel history.”
Another resident at Monday’s meeting asked if cruise ship passengers were been screened prior to entering Cayman. Dr. Kumar confirmed they were not, but added that cruise ship passengers from West Africa were likely to go through exit screenings at other ports prior to arriving in Cayman. “There are a lot of checks before they pass on [to] here,” he said.