|??Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John (FP)|
With the impact of cholera in Haiti, there is a heightened role for disease surveillance in Barbados.
This was underlined today as Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Joy St. John addressed participants at the Annual Disaster Management Seminar of the Health Ministry, entitled Training in Cholera Preparedness, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre (LESC).
In explaining this aspect of work to health, Dr. St. John said: "Disease surveillance essentially concerns gathering information that is critical for rationally planning, operating and evaluating public health activities."??
And, she pointed out that the coordination of surveillance activities was the responsibility of the designated National Epidemiologist, Senior Medical Officer of Health (North), Dr. Karen Springer, who reports to the Chief Medical Officer.
However, it was noted that disease surveillance took place at all levels in the health services and underpinned good communicable disease management. The senior health official added that it was important for physicians in the public and private sectors to be able to diagnose accurately and report any cases to the Ministry of Health.
She revealed too that, in order to assist physicians in early recognition of any cholera cases, the Ministry had prepared and circulated to both sectors a case definition and guidance for treatment, along with a format for reporting cases.
According to her, other proactive measures taken by the Ministry of Health included the completion of plans by the Medical Officers of Health for the management of cholera cases at the community level; on-going work by the Environmental Health Department that included inspection and monitoring of water quality, food safety, waste disposal, port health and environmental sanitation.??
Participants also heard that efforts had been made to coordinate planning with the Barbados Water Authority, the Environmental Protection Department and the Sanitation Service Authority. "By now you would realise the importance of a multi-sectoral approach and that these agencies are key partners in the management and control of a disease such as cholera," Dr. St. John said.
The role of communication was also flagged and the CMO expressed pleasure that the two telecommunications companies Digicel and LIME were
assisting with public education efforts, "by sending text messages to their customers from time to time, alerting them of public health issues of concern to the community".?? Other media such as the Government Information Service were lauded too for reminding the population of something as basic as the need to wash their hands properly and frequently and of safe food handling techniques deemed critical for stopping transmission of cholera and other communicable diseases.??
Laboratory surveillance was considered also crucial to the Ministry’s planning and response mechanism and the CMO revealed that Barbados was currently engaged in discussions with international partners to establish an amalgamated laboratory facility that would bring together the several laboratories in health, namely the Public Health Laboratory, the Leptospira Lab and the lab at the Ladymeade Reference Unit under one umbrella.??????????????
As the official concluded, she cautioned stakeholders that outbreaks of cholera could have significant social and economic consequences.?? "These include loss of time from work, decreases in productivity and increased demands on relatives who take care of ill family members," Dr. St. John underlined.
To this end, stakeholders were urged to return to their agencies and initiate or complete the planning necessary for an adequate response as a country. The CMO noted that one of the main expected results of the seminar was for a better understanding that a multi-sectoral approach worked – one that included access to appropriate health care, clean water and sanitation; community involvement and the sharing of information required to prevent and control cholera.