Appearing as Voice Editorial of Nov. 7, 2009
A second wave of the swine influenza, (2009 H1N1 or swine flu) is expected to hit Saint Lucia soon as the flu season takes hold in North America and Europe. This time of year is also the peak of the country’s ‘legendary’ tourist season and as world travel continues unabated we hope, no we beg, for hordes of foreigners to descend on the island.
But are we prepared for the influx of potential swine flu carriers into our island? The evidence says that not only are we unprepared but we are set to be a catalyst for the spread of the deadly disease.
Photos of mask-wearing citizens were beamed all over the world days after the Swine Flu broke in Mexico and the government took drastic measures to curb its spread. The masks were followed by immediate action as the virus spread to other parts of the world.
On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) signaled that a pandemic of 2009 H1N1 flu was underway. Authorities began screening people at airports; there were quarantines and immediate demands for development of a new vaccine.
Saint Lucia joined the bandwagon. We didn’t need to be told twice, we were examples of the quote, “millions suffering from AIDS but nobody wants to wear condom; 90 people die from swine flu, everybody wants to wear mask.”
The first case of Swine Flu in Saint Lucia was soon diagnosed, followed by the announcement of its spread. Saint Lucians began taking sick days and special centres were designated for diagnosis and treatment.
Then . . . . . Complacency.
The overly-cautious approach did not transmit throughout our government institutions, at least not where it really matters. Despite seeming concern expressed by Ministers and some health officials, a trip to any public institution shows a serious lack of interest in preventing the spread of the flu.
There is nothing like the vigilance against HIV/AIDS, with PSAs, visits to brothels and schools, the collection and dissemination of data at all levels, and topping it off, freely, easily and widely available condoms.
Soap and hand sanitizer, are far from freely or easily available, even in the face of one of the most dangerous, easily spread yet just as easily preventable diseases in recent times.
A recent visit to the emergency room of Victoria Hospital, the island’s major health care facility, highlighted the horrifying truth. There was no soap, no hand sanitizer in sight but plenty of sick people – some coughing and sneezing.
The same is true at many other public facilities, from the front desk to the toilet. Government offices, health centres, restaurants, malls, doctor’s offices, schools and hotels. Oh, there was hand sanitizer being handed out to the bigwigs at the recent FCCA conference.
Now WASCO has taken even the cleansing water from the poor man.
With a second wave of swine flu infections expected to hit the country soon, we cannot depend on the limited supply of vaccines, oranges, apples, bananas, or Ti Ponche.
Washing and cleansing of hands, is a vital, VITAL, part of preventing the Swine Flu, the resulting sickness, loss of work/school hours, the cost of treatment in this hard guava season, and worse death. Oh and I forgot, the impact on the tourist industry (this one is for the politicians and businessmen).
It is every individual’s responsibility to maintain a strong immune system and practice good hygiene. When the collective toll is potentially so great, business owners must guarantee staff a healthy work environment and government must unreservedly protect the populace.
While individuals are buying out soap and hand sanitizer, is a shipment for public offices coming in with the vaccines?