LATIN AMERICA NEWS – Although there have as yet been no confirmed cases of the deadly Ebola virus in Latin America, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is preparing to help health authorities to battle the disease if it appears in the region.

PAHO, which serves as the regional Office of the Americas for the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is mobilizing teams of physicians and epidemiologists who are experienced in responding to outbreaks of disease to help member states in Central and South America and the Caribbean to respond to any cases of Ebola.

Battling Ebola: Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), is helping Latin American nations prepare for possible cases of Ebola. International cooperation is crucial in containing the deadly virus [Photo: PAHO]
Battling Ebola: Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), is helping Latin American nations prepare for possible cases of Ebola. International cooperation is crucial in containing the deadly virus [Photo: PAHO]
PAHO/WHO missions will visit member countries in November and December to assess how prepared those nations are to detect, treat, and contain any imported cases of the deadly virus.

If a case of Ebola is detected in a Latin American or Caribbean country, PAHO/WHO medical experts and representatives from the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) will be deployed to that nation, to assist national health authorities in carrying out their response plans.

“There is a real risk that Ebola could be introduced into Latin America and the Caribbean,” Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), told representatives of several South American nations at a conference in Havana October 20. “The region has to be properly prepared.”

International cooperation is crucial in containing Ebola, should a case appear in Latin America or the Caribbean. At the same time, invididual countries ust “take steps within their jurdiction, with the resources available” to prepare for the virus, Etienne said during a meeting of health care professionals in El Salvador on October 17.

In addition to participating in such meetings, PAHO/WHO is working closely with the health ministries of its member countries to ensure they have the necessary policies, procedures and human resource capacity in place to treat and contain Ebola.

PAHO/WHO officials are participating in a series of training sessions – both virtual and face-to-face – on such issues as logistics, preparedness, and communicating risks to the population. The training also involves the dissemination of protocols and guidelines for infection control and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to health officials and physicians in each country. PAHO/WHO is also providing guidance on how to safely collect and analyze samples with highly pathogenic agents, the best ways to conduct disease surveillance and laboratory procedures.

PAHO has created a special Ebola task force and operational working group to advise and support member nations in carrying out these recommendations:

  • Creating an Ebola emergency fund, to pay for the high costs of treating patients infected with the virus.
  • Monitoring suspected cases of Ebola among international travelers and in health centers.
  • Provide isolation rooms to treat patients infected with the virus, in specially designated health centers.
  • Conduct all laboratory tests in accordance with the best biosafety protocols.
  • Communicate with the public by providing accurate information about the disease.

For more information on PAHO guidelines, visit the website www.paho.org/ebola.

While PAHO plans for coordinated action against an Ebola outbreak, individual Latin American nations have prepared local response plans and procedures.

For example, with technical support from PAHO, Honduran health officials have set up an International Health Surveillance Office (OSVI) at the Toncontín International Airport in Tegucigalpa. Similar offices will also be installed at airports in the cities of San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba and Roatán.

In Argentina, the Ministry of Health is enacting health protocols at international points of entry to identify people with infections. Before an airplane lands in Argentina, the plane’s crew must report to Argentinian health officials whether any passengers are displaying symptoms similar to Ebola, such as a high fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Argentina is also using a special diagnostic method for rapid confirmation of suspected cases of Ebola.

Chilean health officials recently convened a committee of doctors, including epidemiologists, to support the oversight and control efforts against Ebola, according to the Health Ministry.

In Guatemala the government has installed thermal cameras at La Aurora International Airport, in the capital of the country, to detect the body temperature of passengers. A team of agents will work with the equipment 24 hours a day; if they identify someone with a fever, they’ll check the person’s passport to see whether the person had been in Africa, and then send them for a clinical exam. Depending on the case, the traveler may be quarantined, according to Guatemala’s Ministry of Health.

Uruguay is requiring that all passengers arriving in the country must complete a questionnaire about their health status, the Uruguayan Ministry of Health told El Observador on October 9.

Almost all Ebola cases have been in West Africa

With the exception of a handful of cases in Europe and the United States, almost all Ebola patients have been stricken in Libera, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

The Ebola epidemic has infected approximately 10,000 people and killed almost 5,000, almost all of them in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Symptoms include a high fever, headaches, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and general weakness – and may appear as late as 21 days after exposure. Those exposed to the virus are only infectious while they are suffering symptoms of the disease. Ebola is transmitted between humans via direct contact with bodily fluids and secretions. It can also be transmitted by contact with infected human corpses or infected animals, in addition to contaminated clothes, needles and other objects.

In Guatemala the government has installed thermal cameras at La Aurora International Airport, in the capital of the country, to detect the body temperature of passengers. A team of agents will work with the equipment 24 hours a day; if they identify someone with a fever, they’ll check the person’s passport to see whether the person had been in Africa, and then send them for a clinical exam. Depending on the case, the traveler may be quarantined, according to Guatemala’s Ministry of Health.

Source: Diaologo-Americas.com