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Caricom leaders agree to search for US$ millions to boost anti-Ebola systems

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad , Oct 4 (CND).- Leaders of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) on Tuesday agreed to seek international funding and Cuban assistance for a Regional Coordinating Mechanism (RCM) to stave off the deadly Ebola virus.

After a more than three hour emergency summit in the capital of this oil-rich Caribbean nation, the regional leaders said the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) urgently needs US$7 million to improve its laboratories.

Officials said that already the prospects of raising that amount from the Caribbean Development Bank  and the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) looked good.

CARPHA’s Executive Director, Dr. James Hospedales said US$400 million is needed to fund an Ebola rapid response unit, CaribReact.  Against the background of the need for additional funds for the deployment of the unit, he said the regional health agency was hoping to piggy-back on the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency’s (CDEMA) Rapid Response Unit and the Treaty for Security Assistance that can provide airlift of health personnel and returning specimens for testing.

Under the chairmanship of CARPHA, the RCM would be conducting national and regional needs assessments to arrive at a budget by next month. The RCM also involves the secretariats of CARICOM and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and Cuba. The RCM would report to Caricom’s leader responsible for health- St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas.

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, meanwhile announced, that her cabinet has approved the disbursement of US$100,000 to the international effort against the disease.

The Chairman of Caricom- Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne- said the region would be turning to Cuba for expertise in fighting the disease that has killed more than 5,000 persons in several West African countries. “The meeting also recognize the significant role that Cuba can play in boosting the regional response and urged that this long-standing and valuable regional partner be urgently and integrally involved in the Regional Response Mechanism,” he said. Cuba has deployed hundreds of health personnel to the Ebola-affected African countries.

Persad-Bissessar, who initiated the emergency summit, said the involvement of that Spanish-speaking nation would be discussed at the Caricom-Cuba summit to be held on December 8. “Cuba has extensive expertise in this area and all Caricom nations can benefit from knowledge sharing and capacity building in that regard,” she added.

She remarked that the region needed to be prepared to keep the virus out of the region or be able to respond adequately in the unlikely event that it arrives. “The likelihood of penetration by the Ebola virus is level is low due to the low levels of traffic from affected areas.”  She noted that a single Ebola case in the Caribbean could not only impact on the region but also disrupt the region’s social and economic lide.

The Caricom leaders also agreed that travel bans on nationals from affected West African countries would eventually have to be phased out. Already Nigeria and Senegal have been declared free of the disease due to what officials said were good preparation, proactive public education, early detection and rapid response, isolation and treatment, contact tracing, coordination among agencies and investment in emergency response.