Tonight, health authorities all over the world are grappling to come up with an answer for Ebola, how to contain it - and how to prevent it from becoming a global epidemic. The virus is on the move with confirmed cases in the United States and Spain. But can it reach Belize?
This country does get regular visitors from West Africa - and the Ministry of Health also imports medical professionals from Nigeria. But how realistic is the risk, and what measures can be taken to ensure Ebola doesn't get into Belize? That was the subject of a press conference this morning at the Central Regional Health Headquarters in Belize City - where the first thing Health Authorities said is that there is no Ebola in Belize.
Dr. Michael Pitts, Director of Health Services
"Quickly, ahm, there are no known case of Chikungunya in Belize and certainly there are no known case of Ebola in Belize. It's, at this current time its low risk but we take it seriously because any one case could lead to fatality."
John Bodden, Principal Public Health Officer
"In relation to visitors to the country, what we do currently have in place with immigration is that they would report to us any suspected case or any illness that they would probably observe."
Dr. Michael Pitts
"Essentially what we're asking them to continue to do is to help identify for us people coming from high-risk countries and notifying us. But clearly we need to have the airport authority on board with us because we believe if Ebola is to come to us, it's more than likely to come through that route. We also have to pay attention to the border points because that is our frontier, so we could see that we need to have airport authority, Immigration on board with us."
"Do you know who have traveled to Belize from countries that have reported Ebola cases?"
Dr. Michael Pitts
"We don't have that hard facts, but we know that we have people from Nigeria travelling in and out of the country, so that is what we need to lean on immigration to get those figures into our hands."
"It gives the impression that there's not a high level of liaising with the department of immigration."
Dr. Michael Pitts
"In the past they have gotten support, but at this point in time we don't have the full support that I believe this one need, but we are having some urgent meetings over the next 10 days with those stakeholders to get it."
"I would concede that at this point a this point and it has been under discussion - as to how we strengthen the surveillance systems at the points on entry throughout this country in reference to the Ministry of Health being he major responder and with the idea that we would be able to detect, assess and notify as needs be."
So, the main takeaways from that press conference is that the Ministry of Health does not a.) have any personnel posted at the four major land and sea entry points to make assessments of the medical state of visitors; and b.) does not know how many visitors arrive from countries that might be considered Ebola risk zones. And that's because there is a breakdown in interagency communications with the Department of Immigration.
Presently, there is also no suitable isolation ward for a case of Ebola, but the Ministry says that in the case of an Ebola emergency, it would likely house an infected person in a health facility outside the KHMH.
Again, we stress what the authorities said that the chance of Ebola reaching Belize is small.