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Caribbean successfully conducts Ebola simulation exercise

Health care workers, wearing protective suits, leave a high-risk area at the French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders) Elwa hospital on August 30, 2014 in Monrovia. Liberia has been hardest-hit by the Ebola virus raging through west Africa, with 624 deaths and 1,082 cases since the start of the year. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

FLASHBACK: CARICOM Heads of Government, Secretary-General, CARPHA Executive Director and delegates at the Special Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government held in Trinidad and Tobago in November 2014 to address Ebola and Chikungunya

FLASHBACK: CARICOM Heads of Government, Secretary-General, CARPHA Executive Director and delegates at the Special Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government held in Trinidad and Tobago in November 2014 to address Ebola and Chikungunya

Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago –  As part of preparation efforts to prevent and manage potential Ebola cases, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), in collaboration with the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) hosted an Ebola simulation exercise, Exercise Hummingbird.

This table top exercise took place from 13 – 14 July, within 13 CARPHA Member States.  Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) predominantly acted as the national focal point for the exercise, but received support from relevant stakeholders within their countries.

The exercise was organised as part of ongoing national and regional capacity building activities and simulated the introduction of a case of Ebola virus disease (EVD) into each of the participating countries.  During the course of the exercise different elements of the country’s EVD response plans were tested, including the public health systems preparedness for managing potential contacts, coordinating with partners in the preparedness and response system, and preparing communication materials.

The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is the new single regional public health agency for the Caribbean. It was legally established in July 2011 by an Inter-governmental Agreement signed by Caribbean Member States and began operation in January 2013. The Agency rationalises public health arrangements in the Region by combining the functions of five Caribbean Regional Health Institutions (RHIs) into a single agency. They are:  The Caribbean Environmental Health Institute (CEHI)  The Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC)  The Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI)  The Caribbean Health Research Council (CHRC)  The Caribbean Regional Drug Testing Laboratory (CRDTL) CARPHA brings these RHIs together as one strong force under a public health umbrella where issues requiring a regional response can be addressed.

Dr Babatunde Olowokure, Director of Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control, at CARPHA, said “While there are no suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola in the Caribbean, the exercise was very useful, and we now know that if there was to be an imported Ebola case in the region, our public health systems are ready to respond in a way that is rational and effective.” He also said that “The exercise has allowed Member States to evaluate the processes and procedures that they currently have in place to contain a potential travel-related EVD case, an important step to ensure regional, and global health security.”

While the threat posed by the current EVD situation in West Africa has declined significantly, the preparations made for EVD response, and the benefits to be derived from an exercise testing these preparations, can only serve to put Caribbean countries on a better footing for responding to health security threats which may confront the Region in the future.

The purpose of the exercise, which was funded by the World Bank, was to challenge the systems in place, and to prepare Member States for a high-risk but low-frequency public health incident.  A comprehensive post-exercise evaluation will allow Member States to implement further improvements to their EVD preparedness plans. (CARPHA Press Release)

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