Caribbean Community leaders were scheduled to fly to Port of Spain, Trinidad, this week for an emergency summit primarily organized to review the state of readiness in the event of an Ebola infection or outbreak in the tourism-dependent region.
Host Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had late last month called for the summit in the wake of scrambled preparations by governments to ready their health sectors and personnel in the event that the deadly disease reaches Caribbean shores. The outbreak has already led to a few cargo and other ships being turned away from berthing at regional ports, largely because some had been carrying African crews or had made stops in West African nations that, to this day, have no confirmed cases of the disease.
In another incident, authorities in Belize had refused to allow a passenger vessel to berth after a few passengers had experienced vomiting and fevers on board. Not surprisingly, officials there said they had little expertise at the time and were unsure how to handle the situation if a confirmed case of Ebola had been on board.
Such is the level of concern among authorities that the meeting has been arranged to undertake a review of situation awareness and preparedness at the highest levels. Senior medical personnel from across the region have been invited to attend, as well as top officials from the Pan American Health Organization.
The PAHO just this week said it was mobilizing teams of experts to help member states in the Caribbean and Latin America to ensure they were ready, because no one was doubting the possibility that the region could one day be affected.
The teams will visit nearly every country in the hemisphere in the next two months to assess readiness and make recommendations, where necessary, to officials coordinating national plans.
The organization said in a press release this week that it would deploy its global alert and outbreak response network teams to any country that has a confirmed case of Ebola as it moves to ensure hemispheric readiness.
But even as leaders were scheduled to meet, legislators in some regional states were separately calling for full parliamentary debates on the issue while stressing the non-partisan nature of the problem.
Trinidadian opposition parliamentarian, Amery Browne said he wanted an urgent and immediate session to deal with the issue, as the island was not at all ready.
“Since the international Ebola crisis has arisen, there has been no ministerial statement in either House on the topic, the new Parliamentary Committee on National Security has yet to be populated and convened, and indeed the House of Representatives has not had any sessions at all during October 2014 thus far,” he said. “Is it that there are more important things for us to do?”
The response to the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus outbreak is also a key agenda item for leaders, officials said.