The Cayman Islands government is spending nearly $3 million preparing for potential Ebola virus cases, though it says it is unlikely the disease will reach these shores.
A total of $2.9 million has been spent on a field hospital, associated equipment, staff training and supplies to handle Ebola cases, according to local health officials.
This includes the Health Services Authority’s purchase of a $1.2 million Ebola-rated Odulair field hospital with capacity for up to eight patients, which will be set up in the Cayman Islands Hospital’s staff parking lot. A ventilator, dialysis machine, monitors, a wheelchair, laser thermometer and 36 reusable helmets have also been purchased, officials said.
While waiting for the new field hospital to arrive, a temporary quarantine area has been identified and is being equipped and supplied, should a worst-case scenario arise, according to health officials.
The Health Services Authority has also bought 500 protective “hazmat” suits to ensure local staff are protected. In a short-lived Ebola scare last month, when a U.S. visitor to Cayman was briefly suspected of having the virus, medics in hazmat suits transported the patient by ambulance to the Cayman Islands Hospital. Doctors later diagnosed her as having stomach flu.
There have been no cases of Ebola in Cayman or the Caribbean to date and the threat of the virus entering Cayman is low, officials said.
“Although the threat is very low, things could change and for that reason we should not be complacent,” said Osbourne Bodden, minister of health.
Hospital chiefs have been meeting to develop policies and procedures, but a formal protocol for hospital staff has not yet been released.
Should hospital staff encounter a suspected Ebola case, the Cayman Islands Hospital has identified front-line “Ebola Virus Disease Carers,” and select staff received training overseas about two weeks ago, according to a statement released by health officials Wednesday.
As well as the $1.2 million spent on the field hospital and its equipment, $1.7 million will be used to cover staff training, inpatient staffing, emergency medical services and supplies, health officials said.
In an effort to cut down on the chances of the virus reaching Cayman, Cabinet last month approved a travel ban, which stops anyone from entering the country who has been to Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone or the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 21 days prior to arriving in Cayman.
The Cayman Islands Immigration Department also developed a travel health questionnaire which has been distributed to all airlines flying into the Cayman Islands. All tourists and returning residents are required to complete the form.
According to officials, there are 14 Nigerian nationals and one Liberian national living in Grand Cayman at the moment, and air passenger traffic from West Africa to the Cayman Islands is low.
Ebola is an infectious and generally fatal disease marked by fever and severe internal bleeding, and is transmitted through bodily fluids.
Countries with widespread transmission include the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There have also been cases reported in Nigeria, Spain, the United States and most recently, Bamako, Mali.
“The global picture is changing every day,” said Cayman’s Medical Officer of Health Kiran Kumar. “Hence, in addition to the countries with the travel ban, travelers from Mali also will be subjected to health screening and quarantine measures on arrival in Cayman.”
The virus has claimed 5,160 lives, according to the World Health Organization.