In his first public statement at home on the Ebola situation, which comes amid rising fears about the deadly disease, the Prime Minister, who has just returned home from a special Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders’ summit on the matter, assured that “we have done most of what we had to do.
“Of course, as I told the meeting yesterday [in Trinidad], you can speak academically as long as you like and as much as you like about your state of preparedness [but] preparedness is not a destination, it is a journey. And you only know how prepared you are when you have to deal with the reality,” added Stuart, who was at the time viewing the body of the late Democratic Labour Party stalwart Tennyson Beckles at the party’s George Street headquarters.
The Prime Minister also reported on discussions at the CARICOM level, which ended in agreement on a 10-point regional plan of action. The full plan, including harmonised travel restrictions and coordinated efforts at ports of entry, an intensive public education campaign and a comprehensive resource mobilisation effort, including a possible Stop Ebola There and Here (SETH) Fund, is to be in place by the end of November.
The leaders also agreed to the creation of a Regional Coordinating Mechanism on Ebola (RCME) with the immediate responsibility to develop a comprehensive regional strategy to address Ebola preparedness in collaboration with PAHO/WHO.
“We discussed putting in place a broad-based coordinating unit at the CARICOM level that would necessarily involve, not only the Caribbean Public Health Agency – CARPHA – and not only the various ministries of health and so on, but would involved Cuba,” he said, while noting that Cuba had more medical personnel in West Africa today than all the other countries put together.
Coming out of the talks, which were also attended by Minister of Health John Boyce and Chief Medical Officer Dr Joy St John, the Prime Minister said it was decided that Cuba would not only provided medical expertise, but would also form part of a proposed Regional Rapid Response Team.
The CARICOM meeting also discussed the issue of financing in response to Ebola.
Stuart disclosed that the Inter-American Development Bank was prepared to commit $7 million in assistance.
He also expressed confidence that other agencies, including the Caribbean Development Bank, would be prepared to “step up to the plate if they have to”, while noting that individual governments would have their own responsibilities in funding the efforts.
However, the response to Ebola was “not just about money”.
“Of course, it is manpower, and that’s where a country like Cuba comes in with vast experience in matters related to health and dealing with health crises and that kind of thing; dealing with emergencies, the whole question of emergency management in matters related to health, Cuba has no equal in this region in that regard.”
The Prime Minister also stated that Barbados would continue discussions and exchanges with its regional partners to ensure that “our populations are safe and that this region’s reputation can be protected”.