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Ebola response accelerates, UN health agency prepares for arrival of trial vaccines

SINT MAARTEN-INTERNATIONAL – Amid positive developments in the global fight against Ebola, including a growing response to the Secretary-General’s appeals for the more funding to tackle the outbreak, the United Nations health agency on Tuesday announced the expected delivery of Ebola candidate vaccines, as the UN system continues to ramps up efforts to quell the spread of the deadly virus.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman, Fadéla Chaib, told apress briefingin Geneva on Tuesday that the agency is expecting the arrival of a Canadian shipment of Ebola candidate vaccines to arrive in Geneva on 22 October where they would be kept refrigerated at the city’s Cantonal Hospital.

The delivery of the vaccines is the next step in a process initiated by the WHO in late September when it organized an expert consultation featuring more than 70 experts to assess the status of work to test and eventually license two candidate Ebola vaccines.

“The overarching objective was to take stock of the many efforts currently under way to rapidly evaluate Ebola vaccines for safety and efficacy. The next step is to make these vaccines available as soon as possible – and in sufficient quantities – to protect critical frontline workers and to make a difference in the epidemic’s future evolution,” the WHO explained in a statement which added that the “ultimate goal” was to have “a fully tested and licensed product that can be scaled up for use in mass vaccination campaigns.”

The announcement of the arrival of the candidate vaccines follows the UN agency’s recent confirmation that both Nigeria and Senegal are now free of Ebola virus transmission, after 42 days without a single case – a fact the WHO celebrated as “a spectacular success story.”

Nevertheless, Ms. Chaib stated that the three remaining affected countries – Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone – were “certainly underreporting” the scope of their epidemics, but that it remained “impossible to tell to which degree.”

Responding to questions from reporters, the spokesperson also acknowledged “perceptions of delays” in the WHO’s response, adding that the agency would conduct “in due time a thorough review of its response.” Right now, she continued, the focus remained on fighting the disease and minimizing its impact on the West African population.

Also addressing the press briefing was a spokesperson for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Christophe Boulierac, who drew renewed attention to the plight of Ebola survivors who struggle with stigmatization, isolation and psycho-social stress despite overcoming the disease.

Mr. Boulierac explained that even though Ebola survivors were no longer contagious and had developed immunity from the virus, many were kept at a distance by their communities, noting that in one instance the daughter of a survivor was not allowed to play with children.

The spokesperson told journalists that despite the stigma, a UNICEF-backed centre in Liberia had identified and trained 20 survivors to help at care centres throughout the country.

The fact that the survivors are no longer afraid of catching the virus and the fact that they had overcome their own sufferings and could relate to the current patients placed them in a unique position to provide care, especially to children, concluded Mr. Boulierac.

Meanwhile, in a statement released by the UN spokesperson in New York,Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon welcomed the uptick in the financing of the Ebola Multi-Partner Trust Fund which forms part of the monetary groundwork for the global Ebola response as well as the widerUN response.

The Secretary-General established the Fund to provide “a flexible, accountable, strategic and transparent platform to finance critical unfunded priorities and help reduce the rate of Ebola transmission,” the statement said, explaining that it would help provide a range of materials, including trained medical personnel, mobile laboratories, vehicles, helicopters, protective equipment, and medevac capacities.

Mr. Ban noted that the total amount of commitments and pledges now stood at $50 million and urged all countries who had already contributed “to consider what more they can do, and those who have yet to contribute to do so as a matter of urgency.” The Organization had initially set the target of $100 million to be reached by the end of October.

“Ebola is a major global problem that demands a massive and immediate global response,” he added.


WHO declares end of Ebola outbreak in Nigeria. A success story that EBOLA can be contained

SINT MAARTEN-INTERNATIONAL - The Ebola virus was introduced into Nigeria on 20 July 2014 when an infected Liberian man arrived by aeroplane into Lagos, Africa's most populous city. The man, who died in hospital 5 days later, set off a chain of transmission that infected a total of 19 people, of whom 7 died.


According to World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, the end of an Ebola virus disease outbreak in a country can be declared once 42 days have passed and no new cases have been detected. The 42 days represents twice the maximum incubation period for Ebola (21 days). This 42-day period starts from the last day that any person in the country had contact with a confirmed or probable Ebola case.


On 20 October, Nigeria reached that 42-day mark and is now considered free of Ebola transmission.


WHO commends the Nigerian Government's strong leadership and effective coordination of the response that included the rapid establishment of an Emergency Operations Centre.


When the first Ebola case was confirmed in July, health officials immediately repurposed technologies and infrastructures from WHO and other partners to help find cases and track potential chains of transmission of Ebola virus disease.


WHO, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), UNICEF and other partners supported the Nigerian Government with expertise for outbreak investigation, risk assessment, contact tracing and clinical care.


Strong public awareness campaigns, teamed with early engagement of traditional, religious and community leaders, also played a key role in successful containment of this outbreak.


The Nigerian government and staff in the WHO country office are well aware that the country remains vulnerable to another imported case. The surveillance system remains at a level of high alert.


Nigeria has revised its national preparedness and response plan to ensure that the country is well prepared for other imported cases of the disease.


Asjes: Curacao is Prepared For Ebola. Country still debating whether to impose travel ban

WILLEMSTAD – According to the Prime Minister of Curaçao, Ivar Asjes, Curaçao is prepared if someone infected with the Ebola virus comes to the island. The Premier indicated that there were consternations because the equipment and protective gears to use when treating an Ebola patient is not available yet in Curaçao.

“That is true, but they are not available yet for the entire Caribbean or a great part of Latin America. But I must say that we do have the necessary equipment that can be used in case we have to deal with this virus. And together with other countries that we have contact with, but also organizations like PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) and the Dutch Minister of Public Health, we have put together a contingency plan to act in case we find ourselves in this situation.”

According to the Prime Minister, PAHO also has this plan and is readily available to assist the health authorities on the island. The health organization has the necessary equipment that can be shipped immediately to Curaçao.

The reality is that there isn’t enough equipment for all the hospitals and all the countries in the region.

“Right now what’s important is our immigration services at our harbor and our airport to see who is entering our island. This is why our Department of Foreign Relations is keeping an eye on this situation, just like when we had problems with Venezuela a few months ago.”

The Prime Minister also mentioned as an option to impose a travel ban for countries affected by the Ebola virus. But he also indicated that there are people who are against such measures. “It is important for us to make a decision whether we will impose this ban or not,” according to the Prime Minister. (Courtesy Curacao Chronicle)


WEATHER WATCH: TD#9 becomes low pressure system over Mexico

CARIBBEAN – As of Thursday, 23 October, TD#9 has diminished into a low pressure system.  All coastal watches and warnings have been lifted. The system is now over Mexico in the Campeche area.  No tropical development is foreseen for the next five days. 

ARCHIVED: TD#9 accoridng to the NHC on Wednesday evening 22 October, says the system could degenerate back into a low pressure system once it moves over land.  This could happen tonight or on Thursday.

ARCHIVED: LP#1 became Tropical Depression #9 (TD#9) on Tuesday, october 21 and the NHC has a Hurricane Hunter aircraft in the system to whether TD#9 has become Tropical Storm Hanna.  NHC has already issued early Wednesday morning a Tropical Storm Warning for Celestun to Frontera in Mexico.  TD#9 was located at 7.00AM 120 miles west south west from Campeche Mexico.

ARCHIVED: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 - Low Pressure (LP#1) in the Gulf of Mexico over the south western Bay of Campeche has become better defined, but still shows some limited shower and thunderstorm activity early Tuesday morning as it moves slowly eastward.  The National Hurricane Center (NHC) gives the system a 50 per cent chance for development in the coming days.  A Hurricane Hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate the system on Tuesday afternoon.  Interests in the Yucatan Peninsula have been advised to monitor the progress of the system. 

Weather analyst forecast that LP#1 could become Tropical Storm Hanna sometime this week.  A lot of uncertainty remains whether the system will track eastward into the Western Caribbean Sea – left handed storm system similar to Hurricane Lenny – or take a more north easterly track near the Florida peninsula. 

Some of the global models project the system becoming an intense tropical storm in the north-western Caribbean. 

The Atlantic hurricane season runs until the end of November.  We have less than six weeks to go.  Storms during this time of the year usually form in the Gulf of Mexico or Western Caribbean Sea and take a westerly track towards the Lesser Antilles.  Residents of the Caribbean have to continue to remain vigilant for the remaining weeks of the season. 

 LP#2 is located several hundred miles south east of the Azores in the North Atlantic Ocean.  The system is producing gale force winds.  This system is slowly moving westward over open ocean.  The NHC gives this system a low 10 per cent of development. 

ARCHIVED: On Sunday evening, October 19th, there are two new disturbances, but they are no threat to the Caribbean region.  The first Low Pressure (LP) system is located in the Gulf of Mexico in the Bay of Campeche just to the southeast of Vera Cruz, Mexico.  The National Hurricane Center (NHC) gives the system a medium chance of development within the next five days.  The system is moving east north eastward at five to 10 miles per hour.

The second LP is located in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles south east of the Azores.  The system is producing gale force winds and the NHC has given it a medium chance of development within the next five days.  The LP is moving slowly westward closer to warmer waters.


Mexico denies cruise ship entry due to Ebola lab technician who is in quarantine on-board. Ship arrives back in Texas on Sunday

SINT MAARTEN-MEXICO – The Carnival Magic Cruise Vessel is returning to Galveston, Texas after being denied entry to Port Cozumel by the Mexican Government on Friday. This is due to a Texas lab assistant who worked at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital where the first Ebola patient in the U.S. was detected and died. 

Carnival Magic carries up to 4,631 passengers and 1,367 crew.  The vessel was built in 2011and has a gross tonnage of 130,000.

Carnival Magic staff discovered the presence of the lab assistant while the vessel was docked in Belize.  The technician who may have handled Ebola samples at the aforementioned hospital was placed in quarantine by the cruise ship Captain as a precautionary measure. 

The Texas lab technician has not shown any symptoms of the virus.  The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) considered the passenger “very low risk”, because she has had no symptoms for the past 19 days.  Ebola symptoms start to show between two and 21 days.

Prior to arriving in Mexican waters, the Carnival Magic made a port call to Belize as part of its Western Caribbean cruise itinerary.  U.S. Government authorities requested permission from the Belize Government to have the quarantine passenger airlifted back to the United States of America, but this request was denied by the Belize authorities.

Based on an analysis of the situation, Belize authorities and many other Caribbean and Latin American countries lack the resources to handle a possible Ebola patient and are not willing to take any chances with respect to the health security of their own citizens.

A number of countries in the Caribbean and Latin America have instituted travel bans including the Federation of St. Kitts & Nevis.   

Carnival Cruise Lines according to media reports has a stated policy of denying entry to any passengers or crew who have visited Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea within 21 days of a cruise departure date.

Due to this cruise ship scare, cruise lines have now heightened their screening of cruise passengers and crew in connection with Ebola within the past 24 hours after the cruise ship scare.  The contact screening protocol is in addition to travel history screening, and denial of boarding for anyone who had physical contact with, or helped care for, a person with Ebola within the 21 days of embarkation, according to Cruise Lines International Association.

The following cruise lines are already screening guests prior to boarding to ensure that they have not recently visited one of the countries where Ebola is an epidemic: Carnival, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line.

Under the earlier screening protocol, the Dallas lab technician would not have received the extra screening because she had not been to one of the countries that have the epidemic.  

Carnival Magic left Galveston, Texas on October 12.


BERMUDA: In Full Recovery Mode after Passing of Hurricane Gonzalo

BERMUDA – Bermuda is bouncing back very quickly since the passing of major Hurricane Gonzalo on Saturday, 18th October.  Telecommunications is about 90 per cent restored, according to Digicel.  The Bermuda Telecommunications Company (BTC) says that many of its 15,000 customers who were without service after the hurricane have seen their service restored. 


BTC suffered extensive damage to its infrastructure throughout the island with serious impact to 150 main cables.


The Bermuda Electric Company Belco on Tuesday reported that less than 4000 customers still remained without electricity out of 36,000.  Restoration is moving at a fast paste.  Extra linesmen have been requested via the Caribbean Electric Utility Service Corp. and are expected to arrive later this week.  Crews have been working around the clock to restore service.


Almost all government schools will open today, Tuesday.  Some schools are still without electricity.


The Causeway is open to two-way traffic at the moment; however, at certain moments it will be closed where only one-way traffic will be allowed in order to continue with partial repairs to the main road link.


Bus service has resumed as normal while regular ferry service is operational.  The St. George’s route will resume on Wednesday.


It could also be several weeks before the final tally comes in on the costs of damage the insurance sector is reporting.  Hurricane Fabian caused about $300 million in damage; however some insurers are of the opinion that the damage from Gonzalo won’t be as high as Fabian.


The Bermuda Regiment (local military) remains operational assisting with clean-up and repairs.


The airport is open and fully operational it has been reported.  The first cruise vessels are scheduled to return on Wednesday, namely the Celebrity Infinity.


ARCHIVED: October 17, 2014 - Hurricane Gonzalo while passing across Bermuda transitioned from a category 3 to a strong category 2 hurricane.  The center of the hurricane passed around 9.30PM Friday evening.  Residents have been advised not to venture outside as the winds will come from the opposite direction as the hurricane moves away from the island.

From Friday afternoon around 4.00PM over 7,000 customers lost their electricity out of 36,000 and that figure nearly doubled to 13,000 by 5.30PM. 

On Saturday morning the utility company BELCO will carry out a damage assessment in order to start restoring electricity once clean-up efforts get underway.  Last weekend Tropical Storm Fay struck the island and up to Friday, October 17, approximately 1,500 customers were still without electricity after that storm has passed.

Damage has been reported to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital roof resulting in leaks and water damage to the inside of the building.

Firefighters were called out at 6.30PM to deal with a fire as well as medical incidents.

Norwegian cruise lines were forced to change its itinerary for Norwegian Dawn which was scheduled to call on Sunday.    


Ebola: back from outbreak epicentre, UN official says survivors now helping with care

SINT MAARTEN-INTERNATIONAL – Survivors of Ebola who have developed immunity to the virus are being trained to care for children in Liberia and Sierra Leone, a United Nations official announced on Friday.

People who survived Ebola at these “interim care centres” can give small children the love they need in a world where touching is feared.

“It’s strange, a very unhuman experience,” Sarah Crowe, Crisis Communications Chief at UNICEF told journalists in New York following a five-week mission to Liberia, where “fear of contagion, contamination has eroded that sense of compassion.” Liberia, along with hard-hit countries Sierra Leone and Guinea, is on the frontlines of efforts to stop the outbreak.

The virus has “hijacked” every aspect of life and “changed the way people live...and how people die,” said the UN official, beginning her presentation by disclosing her temperature and showing a bottle of hand sanitizer to the gathered reporters.

The UN agency estimates that some 3,700 orphans are in the region, of whom 600 have been reunited with an existing or extended family member.

Among the moving survivors’ stories captured by UNICEF, four-year-old Amadou wakes up his sister, Mary, at 4:30 in the morning to ask where their mother is. He has asked almost daily since he was discharged from the Ebola Treatment Unit in Kenema, almost two months ago.

“I don’t know what to tell him,” 15-year-old MarytoldUNICEF. “How can I explain death to a 4-year-old when I barely just understood it myself? This wasn’t supposed to be my responsibility.”

Their mother fell sick after helping a woman in the neighbourhood. They thought it was malaria, but her condition worsened quickly.

“They called for an ambulance, and she was rushed away to the General Public Hospital in Kenema. It was the last time that I saw her,” Mary said.

Across West Africa, children face stigma and rejection from their communities and their relatives, especially if the children are survivors themselves.

A recent UNICEF survey of 1,400 homes across the country found that about 96 per cent of those households reported some discriminatory attitudes toward people with suspected or confirmed Ebola, and 76 per cent said they would not welcome someone who was infected with Ebola back into their community, even if that person has recovered.

“Children who have been in interim centres are often shunned,” Ms. Crowe said. She recalled the story of siblings living under a tree, chased out of their village by neighbours too afraid to have them near after their care-givers died.

However, she also told the story of survivors of the virus, who are reunited with their families. Among them, was Ann Marie, a girl Ms. Crowe met while visiting Montserrado and Loofah counties, which encompass Monrovia, and who has since returned home.

“They each have a survivor’s certificate. For them, it’s really like a new birth certificate,” Ms. Crowe said speaking about a photograph of the family with the documents.

In Kenema, Sierra Leone, 25 Ebola survivors met earlier this week to share their experience of the virus, learn how to deal with its psychological aftermath, and find ways to help infected community members, particularly children. The event was organized by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, with support from UNICEF and other partners.

“A key challenge that parents, care workers and many of us working on the Ebola response are facing is how to care for children who have been affected or infected with Ebola without putting their care givers at risk,”saidRoeland Monasch, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone.

“One creative way to address this gap is to work with Ebola survivors who can provide these children with the love, care and attention they so badly need.”

In New York, Ms. Crowe also spoke about make-shift quarantine centres created by communities where families stay for 21days, the incubation period for the virus, and which are sometimes set up in empty schools.

Classes have been canceled throughout the countries, leading UNICEF and its partners to pilot an “emergency on-air schooling” for children, many of whom have said they are frustrated at not being able to continue their studies.

The agency is also setting up water and sanitation stations, having shipped a record amount of chlorine from its depot in Copenhagen, Denmark. UNICEF has appealed for over $200 million to respond to the Ebola outbreak, which is part of a broader, six-month appeal for $987.8 million that governments and humanitarian agencies require to fight the disease.

“Our message is that we can’t be crushed by this,” Ms. Crowe said, encouraging every non-governmental organization “that isn’t there but who should be there.”

She noted, however, that the international community is in “totally unmapped terrain” without a template or protocols for such situations.

The death toll in the outbreak is now at 4,546 out of 9,191 known cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the latest figures from the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

Also in Sierra Leone, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners today reported the start of a food distribution in the outskirts of the capital, Freetown, to 265,000 people.

It is the biggest one-off food distribution in the country since the start of the Ebola outbreak, according to a UN spokesperson.

More than 700 aid workers are expected to be mobilized in just one day to distribute over 800 metric tons of food, including rice, pulses, vegetable oil and salt, to meet the needs of families’ for about 30 days.

The aim of the distribution is to stabilize quarantined families by giving them enough to eat so that they do not have to leave their homes to look for food.

Before today’s distribution, in the suburb of Waterloo, WFP and its partners had provided food assistance to more than 300,000 Ebola-impacted people across Sierra Leone.

The UN agency is scaling up to reach 600,000 people impacted by the crisis, according to a spokesperson.


EBOLA: List of countries with travel bans growing in the Caribbean

SINT MAARTEN-CARIBBEAN – Ebola travel bans within the Caribbean Basin are increasing.  Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago have now restricted travel of persons from West African nations that have the Ebola epidemic.  Other regional countries that have implemented travel restrictions are Jamaica, St. Lucia, Colombia, and St. Vincent &the Grenadines.  Grenada is considering also implementing a travel ban.

The three countries where Ebola is an epidemic are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. 

Trinidad & Tobago will quarantine any traveller who has visited one of the above countries as well as those who travelled to Nigeria or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Other travellers who have visited any of those within six weeks will be quarantined for 21 days upon arrival in the country.

Jamaica’s travel ban comes after a U.S. couple was placed in quarantine at one of its international airports after screeners had discovered that one of the Americans had travelled to Liberia about two weeks ago.  Jamaican health authorities kept the couple in quarantine and then sent back to the U.S.


Electricity Restoration: Anguilla receives assistance from U.S. Virgin Islands WAPA

ANGUILLA – The U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) is assisting the island of Anguilla utility company Anguilla Electric Company Ltd. with the restoration and recovery in the wake of Hurricane Gonzalo that passed the islands on Monday afternoon and evening.

On Wednesday, Anguilla put out a request for assistance to help restore electricity.  WAPA responded by sending a crew of 10 men from two districts that includes linesmen, an engineer tech and a line superintendent.

WAPA and Anguilla Electric Company Ltd. are both members of the Caribbean regional body CARILEC where in times of need, the member islands would come to each other’s aid.   

The WAPA left the US Virgin Islands on Thursday.


On World Day, UN spotlights handwashing as vital tool in fight against Ebola

SINT MAARTEN/INTERNATIONAL – As the world celebrated the seventh annualGlobal Hand washing Day on October 15, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spotlighted how the simple practice not only saves lives, but is also instrumental in the fight against Ebola.  This is also very relevant to Sint Maarten to protect the community against various diseases and viruses.

“Hand washing with soap is one of the cheapest, most effective ‘vaccines’ against viral diseases, from the seasonal flu, to the common cold,” Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes, said in a statementon the day.

UNICEF is using this year’s Day to raise awareness about Ebola in the affected countries, counter misconceptions and promote hand washing to combat the further spread of the disease. The agency has distributed protective supplies such as gowns, gloves, and bleach – as well as 1.5 million bars of soap in Sierra Leone alone, and millions more in Liberia and Guinea.

“Our teams on the ground in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are stressing the importance of hand washing as part of a raft of measures that are needed to halt the spread of Ebola. It is not a magic bullet, but it is a means of additional defence which is cheap and readily available,” said Mr. Wijesekera.

Apart from Ebola, figures released recently by UNICEF and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) say in 2013 more than 340,000 children under five – almost 1,000 a day – died from diarrhoeal diseases due to a lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene.

These viral diseases can be easily prevented if children are taught to wash their hands with soap before eating and after using the toilet. UNCIEF says that when hand washing becomes an ingrained habit, it could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhoea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.

This simple act is critical to meeting the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing deaths among children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015.

The recent outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa has taken its toll on the health services in the affected countries, making the practice of hand washing even more important in warding off these common diseases, UNICEF says.

“It is clear there is no simple fix, and it is going to take a massive international effort to stem the tide of this disease,” said Mr. Wijesekera. “But it is crucial to get the word out on what measures can be taken now in the hardest hit areas, even as additional help continues to arrive from the outside. Hand washing is one of those measures.”

Each year, over 200 million people are involved in celebrating the Day in over 100 countries. For instance, in Sri Lanka, more than 38,400 students in 96 schools will take part in hand washing events, along with politicians and members of the public.

In Lebanon, the SMS message, ‘Save your health; wash your hands’ will be sent to hundreds of mobile phone users. And in Mali, there will be a nationwide media campaign with hand washing events and soap distribution in dozens of schools.

Major events and celebrations are also scheduled in The Gambia, Nigeria, and Cambodia, among other countries.

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