Health officials  better equipped  to handle fast  spreading diseases
March 15, 2013
Health officials better equipped to handle fast spreading diseases

Health officials in St Vincent and the Grenadines should now be better prepared and equipped to handle diseases that are fast spreading.{{more}}

A three-day workshop was held this week to develop risk communication plans, as part of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) efforts to enhance national, regional and global public health security.

Dr Roger Duncan, Medical Officer of Health, told participants that while they were taking part in an exercise that is challenging, it was one that would make history for everyone in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“You are involved in a process that will end in not just making the country safer, but you will be providing safety to all inhabitants of the global space that we share,” Duncan said.

Duncan explained that at the core of these regulations lies global public health safety, and that the main focus is on the wider scope of public health events which have capacity to impact human life.

He drew attention to the coronavirus, identified in 2012, which serves as a reminder to persons of how easy it is for diseases to travel across borders. This new virus reportedly began in Asia, is now in Europe and has affected 14 persons globally and caused five fatalities.

“Our response ought not to be erratic, ought not to be spontaneous, ought not to be driven by fear, but it must have some scientific basis,” the medical officer stated.

Duncan stressed the importance of risk communication strategies, saying that in the absence of such mechanisms, persons may lapse into complacency and a sense of false security.

Additionally, he pointed out that the public health landscape is changing rapidly. He highlighted the difficulty that the SARS pandemic created in previous years via global panic and non-scientific issues of travel and trade alerts.

“All of this took place in the absence of deliberate, coherent and well-articulated risk communication strategy and plans,” he said.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Luis deShong said that the regulations apply to diseases, including those with new and unknown causes, in spite of origins or sources, which present significant harm to humans.

“Our ministry has begun to assess the public health system with a view towards improving our capacity for the detection, reporting and assessment of and response to public events to meet the minimum core capacity requirements under the international health regulations,” deShong said.

The permanent secretary also stated that with these strategies in place, SVG stands to benefit greatly, by receiving WHO guidance in building the core capacities necessary to detect, report, assess and respond to public health emergencies, technical assistance and funding to meet these guidelines and privileged information gathered by the WHO about public health threats in other countries that might affect St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) country programme specialist Aneke Wilson said that “this risk communication strategy workshop is very timely, as countries prepare to become international world health regulations compliant”.

Wilson also pointed out that the workshop was phase one of a series of other phases, some of which include a media plan, a staffing plan and formulation of internal and strategic alliances. Proper documentation, communication surveillance and evaluations must also be in place.

The workshop commenced on Monday at the Methodist Church Hall and concluded on Wednesday. Funding for the program was provided by PAHO.