The whole world is on a health alert regarding the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as Coronavirus. Where is Haiti in the preparations? In an exclusive interview with Le Nouvelliste on Thursday, the Minister of Public Health answered this question. According to Dr Marie Gréta Roy Clément, the ministry has already identified hospitals across the ten departments that could provide possible case management. The Minister answered questions from Robenson Geffrard.
Le Nouvelliste: Does Haiti have reasons to be worried about the spread of the coronavirus in the world?
Dr. Marie Gréta Roy Clément: While the COVID-19 epidemic has spread from China to approximately 46 countries with more than 82,000 cases confirmed as of February 27, 2020 according to WHO data, and only three countries America (United States, Canada, Brazil) have identified confirmed cases, countries with which we have significant trade and migration, there is reason to be very vigilant and to follow all the recommended prevention measures. Indeed, the country is exposed to a certain risk of importation of the virus because it is indeed a pandemic and the alert is global.
LN: What arrangements have been made at the country’s two international airports?
MGRC: Health monitoring has been activated in the two airports for screening travelers (observation, systematic body temperature taking of passengers, questioning for those returning from areas that we consider at risk) and possibly quarantining certain people coming from risk area.
LN: Have you already identified any hospitals that could accommodate cases?
MGRC: Yes, the ministry has already identified hospitals across the ten departments that could provide possible case management.
LN: Is there currently a quarantine zone in the country?
MGRC: The department has already identified spaces that could be used for quarantine if necessary. For the time being, at this phase, we are prioritizing home quarantine. But along the way and depending on the evolution of the situation, we plan other types of quarantine.
LN: What about ports?
MGRC: Usually in many ports, a quarantine team visits the ships before disembarking. However, with the declaration of the new coronavirus, health surveillance is reinforced in certain ports and the process is triggered for the reinforcement of others. It should be noted that most transport boats from areas where there are cases arrive with more than 14 days of travel, therefore after the incubation period. What is more, goods from China do not represent any danger because the virus does not survive on objects under these conditions and during all this time.
LN: Do you think that with this flow of tourists in the Dominican Republic there is cause for concern? If so, how can surveillance on border lines be strengthened?
MGRC: The increase in the flow of goods and people facilitates the spread of various diseases which become a threat to public health, mainly COVID-19 which is a highly contagious disease. The country sits on an island with a porous border that would facilitate the spread of the disease on both sides. Given the significant trade between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, a country more exposed to the risk of importation of the virus, surveillance in official border areas has been reinforced through epidemiological and health surveillance officers.
Community-based surveillance (SEBAC) will also be strengthened in unofficial border areas. All formal and informal resources will be involved. It is in the interest of the two countries of the island to coordinate their efforts to fight this scourge, otherwise the two nations will pay the consequences.
LN: Is it necessary for the country to order masks?
MGRC: Given the known mode of transmission of the disease so far, in order to limit its spread, it would be necessary to obtain masks. But it is important to focus more on preventive hygiene measures, namely:
– wash your hands frequently with soap and water;
– cough in the elbows;
– maintain a distance from sick people;
– use disposable handkerchiefs;
– avoid traveling to risk areas (more than 100 cases).
LN: Are we able to test?
MGRC: The Ministry of Health, through its National Public Health Laboratory (LNSP), has the capacity to take the COVID-19 test since February 12, 2020. Staff are trained and the tests are available thanks to the support from PAHO / WHO and CDC. The LNSP is one of two entities in the Caribbean region able to take the test and it is the only national entity capable of diagnosing the virus in the territory. The tests will be carried out according to well-defined clinical criteria.
LN: When are you going to start raising awareness about the virus?
MGRC: The MSPP has already started to raise awareness of the coronavirus since the beginning of January 2020.
Press conferences were given at the MSPP level and at the airport level;
– messages have been developed and distributed to passengers returning to airports;
– investigation and awareness-raising forms have been distributed to passengers returning to airports;
– an awareness-raising message in four languages (Creole, French, English, Spanish) on the prevention of influenza in general and of the new Coronavirus in particular was displayed on screens at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport;
– an audio spot on the coronavirus is broadcast in the media;
– regular feeding of the official Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages of the ministry;
– training of trainers has already started. The replication of these trainings will soon be made in all the communities;
– EMIRA (Rapid Response Medical Teams) from several health departments have already started to raise awareness of the prevention of the new coronavirus.
In the pre-epidemic communication plan, it is further planned to develop:
– banners for airports (Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien), for Malpasse, Ouanaminthe and the other entry points of the country;
– another audio spot which will be ready soon;
– an audiovisual jingle will be ready shortly;
– fact sheets for distribution to the population;
– training for journalists on the coronavirus during the week, among others;
– the development of a media plan for the mass dissemination of awareness messages.
LN: Does the government promise to work in transparency on this issue?
MGRC: Yes, we will work in transparency and we will inform, through the various press points, the population according to the evolution of the epidemic.
We would like to recall these words from the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros: “Health security is not only a matter for the health sector. It is everyone’s business. “It is impossible to predict the direction this epidemic will take, and he once again stressed the vital importance for all countries to invest in preparedness, not panic. WHO calls on all governments, businesses, individuals and news organizations to work together to raise the appropriate level of alarm, without stoking the flames of hysteria.
Finally, we ask the population to continue to apply the hygiene measures recommended in the case of epidemics of influenza.
Interview by Robenson Geffrard source Le Nouvelliste