PHILIPSBURG – On the evening of Friday, February 26, Minister of Health Emil Lee was notified that a group of students involved in the Leeward Islands Debate had become ill. Minister Lee immediately notified the inspection department and Collective Preventative Services (CPS). Dr. Virginia Asin and Maria Henry were immediately mobilized by CPS.
Dr. Asin and Henry immediately went to the St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) to assess the situation. Patients, mostly consisting of debate students were suffering from vomiting. SMMC had the situation under control, and students were treated and discharged.
Dr. Asin then proceeded to Maho to assess the situation Students were being treated for dehydration and no new cases were identified. Protocols were established for the hotel, which included having persons with vomiting and diarrhea remain in their rooms, notify guests and staff to adhere to proper hygiene procedures, and have the hotel execute extra cleaning and disinfection procedures.
CPS staff worked until late in the night to ensure that everything at SMMC and Maho were under control.
On Saturday, February 27, a joint VSA team from CPS and the inspectorate consisting of Henry, Likia Pickerio, Laniol Tromp, Swinda Richardson, Nirmala Vlaun, met at Maho to conduct interviews and inspections. In order to get a firsthand assessment and update of the situation, Minister Lee joined the team.
According to Minister Lee, “The team from the Ministry of Health has my full support and confidence. They are approaching this situation objectively and professionally. And just for the record, at no time were inspections or investigations halted or obstructed. I am, as usual, extremely proud of team VSA and the staff of the SMMC!”
According to a preliminary report, the inspectorate checked the kitchens and found that, “As far as hygiene and food handling in the kitchen at Maho are concerned, the Food Inspectors observed that the kitchens are in proper hygiene condition.”
Until the tests at SLS are complete and the final investigation report is completed (estimated to be complete by the end of this week), “the team could not rule out food as a source for the gastroenteritis.” However, the preliminary conclusion is that “based on the assessment of two involved physicians (Dr. Asin and Dr. Deketh) is that there is a gastroenteritis virus involved, most probably Norovirus.”
In the meantime, a number of recommendations were made to Maho to establish protocols to eliminate the spread of the virus. Minister Lee emphasized, “While the Ministry of Health certainly has a control and regulatory function, the Ministry also has an educational role. The Ministry should also be seen as a resource for the community to call on when it has a problem and needs advice on how to manage problems. We encourage the community to reach out for guidance and assistance whenever necessary. We are here to create a healthy and safe environment for the residents and visitors of St. Maarten.”
In conclusion, Minister Lee commented, “Despite difficult circumstance, the debates continue. That is truly a testament to the resilience and determination of the youth of the Caribbean. This bodes well for the future of the Caribbean. Congratulations to all participants!”
Source: 721 news Minister Lee issues update on sick debate students