Photo: (Left to Right)- Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr. Delores Stapleton- Harris;Chief of Staff at the Joseph N. France General Hospital Dr. Cameron Wilkinson; Chief Medical Officer Dr. Hazel Laws and Junior Minister of Health Wendy Phipps

BASSETERRE, St.Kitts (Friday 7th February 2020)-Quizzed about whether the Federation has health workers trained to care, individuals, if they become infected with the Coronavirus here in St.Kitts-Nevis, Chief of Staff at the Joseph N. France General Hospital Dr. Cameron Wilkinson has publicly given a positive response.

“The answer is yes. We deal with respiratory diseases all the time and as I mentioned the preventive measures are the measures we use for the common cold flu influenza and so these are procedures that we would have been familiar with.”

Dr. Wilkinson, at the time, was responding during the question and answer segment of a press conference put by the Ministry of Health on Monday 3rd February 2020 at Government Headquarters.

New Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr. Delores Stapleton- Harris disclosed that the main objective of the press conferece was to provide the Federation with a comprehensive update on the novel Coronavirus that was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

According to WHO, the current outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first reported from Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019.

To date- as gathered by this media- more than 28,000 people have now contracted the virus with the vast majority of cases in China where there is a death toll of 618.

Local health officials in St.Kitts-Nevis maintain that the risk of the coronavirus to the people of the Federation is low.

In further responding to another question posed about the newness of this particular coronavirus and the potential challenges as it relates to health care, Dr. Wilkinson stated: “Let me put things into perspective, as it relates to the flu, last year we had about 19 million cases in the United States  and about 180 persons were  hospitalised and about 10,000 deaths, and globally we have about three to five million persons who were severely ill from the flu with about 250, 000 deaths  and the reason what we’re talking about the coronavirus is not that it’s the most deadliest virus that has come around but because it is novel…it is new to us and we’re putting mitigation measures in place but it’s not that we have not dealt with diseases that were more deadly than this before and that is the reason why we’re saying there should be no panic and we’re trying to contain it.”

The Ministry of Health recommends good personal hygiene practices to prevent the common cold/flu:  Hand-washing; – Covering the nose and mouth with tissue or flexed elbow when coughing and sneezing; – Avoiding close contact to anyone with cold or flu symptoms; and – Remaining at home from school if one has a cold or flu. 

Meanwhile, a caller to the live broadcasted ‘Health Wise’ show-hosted by the St.Kitts Medical and Dental Association that night on ZIZ TV- asked the panel if the Ministry of Health has guidelines to address the coronavirus illness if it reaches St.Kitts-Nevis.

Former Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patrick Martin, in responding, informed that general public health guidelines were developed since 2002 when the Federation had to prepare for Sars.

“Those guidelines were then updated for Cricket World Cup 2007 because we were preparing for an influx of hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Caribbean and as you know when people travel, they travel with their credit card and they travel with diseases.”

Dr. Martin went on to say that such guidelines were amended in 2009 for the H1N1 influenza commonly known as Swine Flu and amended again for Ebola, Zika and Chicken Gunya.

“Public health measures are fairly standard, you just have to rest them for the particular infection. The guidelines exist and specifically what facilities are ready and stuff like that. The questions are better addressed by our colleagues who are managing the Ministry of Health…”

He said such public health guideline information can be found on the websites of CARPHA (Caribbean Public Health Agency) and PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) noting that there is “total transparency” as it relates to such.