The four Nigerian students who are being held in isolation after they arrived in St. Vincent without medical certificate proving that they do not have Ebola, have not exhibited symptoms of any illness, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache told I-Witness News on Thursday.
The students, who are enrolled at All Saints University, and the American University of St. Vincent, arrived in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) over a three-week period, Keizer-Beache said.
News broke on Wednesday that the students were being “quarantined” until they are repatriated or it is proven that they are not infected with the virus.
(Scroll for Ebola infographics)
“They have no symptoms or signs at all, so they are not ill, it’s not for us to do tests. It is simply a matter of you have a protocol of how we are going to deal with persons coming from Nigeria,” she said in an interview.
She further assured Vincentians that there are no suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola in SVG.
“Apparently, there was something out there that we had persons with Ebola. Just to reinforce that that is not so at all. And to this point, none of those four students have exhibited any sign of any illness at all. We are, as always, working as best to ensure the safety and health of everybody in St. Vincent and Grenadines,” the senior health official said.
The Ministry of Health announced on Sept. 1 that prevent the entry of Ebola the country, persons travelling from Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia or those who have visited any of the aforementioned countries during a 28-day period will not be allowed entry.
Persons travelling from Nigeria or any other West African country or those who visited any of the aforementioned countries during a 28-day period must present upon entry at any port of entry a negative blood test result for Ebola — done not more than seven days before leaving their home country, to be allowed entry, the ministry said.
Keizer-Beache said the medical schools were informed that persons from the countries identified must have a medical certificate and a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test done to be allowed entry into SVG.
“These individuals came into the country with insufficient documentation as we required. And because of that, we decided to keep them quarantined — delay their entry into the system,” Keizer-Beache told I-Witness News, noting that Ebola is not contagious unless a person develops symptoms.
“So, the idea of quarantine, in its strict sense, is not what’s going on now,” she further said, adding, “That would be if we have somebody who is ill.
“Nobody is ill, but because of the incubation period, persons are being observed and the ministry of Health is doing regular checks on them, in terms of assessing ‘Are you well?’, fever, any sort of symptoms. That is what we are looking for,” she said, pointing out that checks are done daily.
Keizer-Beache said the students are being housed “safely”, adding, “I would say that, because I don’t want to go saying exactly where because persons might get anxious — just anxiety about what is happening.”
Chief Immigration Officer, Stanford Hamilton, told journalist Jerry S. George on Tuesday that the students were being held at an isolated dorm at their universities.
Keizer-Beache said the Ministry of Health is in contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and noted that the immigration protocols were implemented through the Ministry of National Security.
“Right now we have to take it further — that through Foreign Affairs, that it be known officially to all embassies wherever you come from — because you might not originate in Nigeria, you might be coming from somewhere else, you might pass through some other countries about which we have concerns,” she said.
“So, the next step — and this is what we are working on now — is to put the message out to all nations, so that if you board a plane in Nigeria, the boarding personnel know that if at any point in your journey you are going to be passing through St. Vincent and the Grenadines, if you don’t have certain documents, you are not going to be allowed to pass here,” the senior health official said.
“So, we are working with the airlines on that, we are working with Foreign Affairs on that, we are in the process of putting it on our website, we have asked all the schools, we have spoken with LIAT and asked them to use their avenues of dissemination of information so that person know ahead of leaving and even in terms of purchasing their ticket that if they are going to transit St. Vincent and the grenadines, this is what is required,” Keizer-Beache said.
She also said she wanted to assure residents of SVG that the government is working with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the Pan-American Health “to ensure that we are as prepared as we can be”.
To illustrate, Keizer-Beache said that internationally there is a shortage of the personal protective equipment because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
She said SVG normally sources such equipment from PAHO, but the hemispheric organisation has certain challenges supplying the equipment in light of the global shortage.
“So we have put in our order, funded by government, to ensure that we increase our supplies of personal protective gear,” Keizer-Beache said.
“We have identified the area where if we have to do actual quarantine and management of where we will do it.
“We are putting all of those measures in place. It is an on-going process, because even WHO, they are [facing certain challenges]. So we in St. Vincent, we are putting in place the measures that we can, gainfully aware of the challenges involved in managing if this thing were to come here.
“So our major efforts, while we are putting this thing in place in place in the … event that it arrive here, we are doing our best to ensure that we are at as minimal a risk of anybody getting into St. Vincent with this disease,” Keizer-Beache said.
(Infographics source: Centers for Disease Control andPrevention)