St. Vincent and the Grenadines will participate in a summit in Havana on Monday to discuss the Ebola virus, which has claimed over 4,500 lives in West Africa, while at least two cases have been diagnosed in the United States.
The summit will bring together the member nations of the Caracas-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) of which the CARICOM nations of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and St. Lucia are also members.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told a press conference on Tuesday that he, along with Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, and Dr. Franklin James, another Ministry of Health official, will attend the summit.
Gonsalves said he is yet to receive the agenda of the meeting, but gave reporters an idea of some of the issues that are likely to be discussed.
“What they want to do is to have us share our experiences and to have us have a discussion on the issues professionally. The professionals will advise and we’ll take some decisions as heads in ALBA as to how can we address this issue nationally, regionally and globally, because it is a national problem, it’s a regional problem, it’s a global problem,” he said.
Gonsalves, who returned to SVG on Saturday from Cuba, where he was treated for a muscle injury, said he had discussed the summit with the Cuban vice-president and minister of foreign affairs.
Gonsalves said Cuba has a facility like an Ebola centre where they are training a lot of people and he would like to see it.
“That’s an important area in which we have to get involved — how we are doing the training, what a practical facility would be like,” he said.
Gonsalves said he had asked Keizer-Beache to prepare a document to present at the summit, to show what St. Vincent and the Grenadines has done and to evaluate what else needs to be done.
He said the summit will also discuss the financing of the particular programme of training, adding that he suspects this will have to go through the ALBA mechanism.
Gonsalves further said that while he was in Cuba he spoke via telephone with Director-General of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Dr. Didacus Jules, to have the health rapporteurs within the sub-regional bloc attend the summit in Cuba.
Gonsalves said the OECS is looking to have an appropriate Cuban professional headquartered at the OECS Secretariat to help to coordinate and to see what training and other arrangements of a preparatory nature can be put in place.
He noted, however, that there are no cases of Ebola in the region, adding, “And I know that the risk factor in relation to Ebola for the Caribbean is very low, so too is it for Europe and North America, yet we see the kind of a scare and even hysteria that can be generated, even in a large country like the US of A, so we have to make preparations,” Gonsalves said.
He said head of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Dr. James Hospedales was expected to address the Vincentian cabinet yesterday (Wednesday) about the chikungunya and Ebola viruses.
OECS health ministers are wrapping up today a two-day meeting in Kingstown, discussing chikungunya and Ebola, and Gonsalves said he expects that those discussions will feed into the ALBA talks.