Lee: No alarming increase in public health outbreak

~ Reports on Ministry’s activities post Irma ~

PHILIPSBURG–Health Minister Emil Lee says there has not been any alarming increase in public health outbreaks to date since the passage of Hurricane Irma.

  In a press release giving an account of the work of the Ministry post Hurricane Irma, Lee said members of the community are “trying their best” to clean their surrounding areas from the large amounts of debris which are perfect breeding sites for pests. Additional fogging equipment and insecticides have been requested through the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO).

  Lee said immediately following Irma, first responders which included the Police Department, Ambulance Department, Fire Department, Department of Community Development, Family and Humanitarian Affairs CDFHA, Department of Social Services, Inspectorate of Health, Labour and Social Affairs IVSA and the Department of Collective Prevention Services (CPS) went out into the community to ensure that the road to recovery could begin as soon as possible.

  He said despite the challenges and the widespread destruction, within less than one week of the passing of Irma family physicians had reopened and pharmacies were opening for a period during the day. “The goal was to make sure that each district had one family physician and one pharmacy operational,” Lee said.

  Despite damages, St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) and staff never stopped servicing the population. By week two grocery stores began to open allowing persons to regain access to food, water, and sanitation/hygiene items, electricity and water was being restored “It is the little things that made the road to recovery that much better. St. Maarten has done a tremendous job in getting back on its feet. If we were to compare the country’s resilience in 1995 to now, we are doing an amazing job. Clearly previous investments in St. Maarten’s infrastructure are paying dividends today.”

  He said the Ministry of VSA plays a critical role in ensuring access to emergency medical services, continuity of healthcare services and shelter management. Immediately after the passing of Irma, VSA accepted the responsibility to coordinate all relief aid coming to St. Maarten in care of the Government.

  In terms of public health, post-Irma priority was to ensure continuous access to medical services and supplies. Public health worked with all of the healthcare providers to ensure they were operational as soon as possible. All critically ill patients and the dialysis patients were evacuated and shortages of medical supplies were addressed through the support of donor agencies.

  Lee said also that the Inspectorate of VSA has been heavily involved in safeguarding the quality of healthcare services being provided, the quality of the water coming out of the distribution network of utilities company GEBE and the food safety of supermarkets and restaurants which have opened for business post-Irma.

  “All supermarkets and restaurants which have resumed services to the public have been inspected by the Inspectorate of VSA and continue to be inspected regularly. All selling points with frozen food and/or meat where there has been no continuity in cooling and/or freezing capacity in the past days/weeks have been ordered to destroy these consumables under the supervision of the Inspectorate. Most recently, the Inspectorate has been checking various day care institutions and certifying if they are okay to open.”

  CPS has been focussed on preventing illnesses in the community. Through public service announcements (PSAs) the Ministry has been working to inform the public on how best to prevent illness. Baby Clinics were opened and the Mobile Health Bus was mobilised three days per week visiting different districts in the community securing that vaccination coverage is maintained, offering services for baby wellness, providing basic medical services as well as providing post traumatic coping information. Additionally, CPS has been coordinating fogging activities in the different neighbourhoods to try and reduce the increasing mosquito population.

  From a social perspective, the Ministry has been busy prepping each shelter, ensuring it was clean, safe and that there were sufficient supplies available. The Ministry was also responsible for coordinating the evacuation of the population, the release said. “This effort to support and assist those in our community that have been the most impacted continues. As Minister, much attention and efforts have been spent on looking for resources both financial and material to support our community.”

  Labour Affairs and Social Services are preparing for the labour and social impacts of Hurricane Irma. “Clearly with so many residences and businesses damaged the impact on employment and socially is anticipated to be extreme.”

  As authorities move away from distribution points to targeted distribution, other social programmes are being worked on to ensure the most vulnerable in the community can fulfil their basic needs. “Namely, through soup kitchens in all districts and a voucher system with the objective to execute the distribution of daily necessities to those in need. The cooperation and contribution of the retailers on our island is of vital importance to the success of this programme and their commitment received thus far is greatly appreciated.”

  Additional assessments are being put in place for the emergency shelter/housing system in collaboration with the Military, VROMI and VSA. A proposal is therefore being evaluated for short-term housing at the Festival Village, mid-to-long-term housing in possible containers, possible repairs to homes with minor or moderate damage and for long-term the building of social housing. As soon as the programmes have been developed and approved the public will be notified on where, how, and when assistance through these programmes will begin.

  Moving forward, the Minister and Ministry are heavily focussed on working on the development of a comprehensive plan on activities of the Ministry to deal with the ongoing social impacts from Irma. “Expectations are that many in our community will need financial assistance. Securing financial support is top priority for the Ministry of VSA. Additionally, the Ministry is finalising a report on activities pre-Irma including a report for Parliament on activities as well as recommendations on how to improve disaster preparedness,” Lee said.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/69807-lee-no-alarming-increase-in-public-health-outbreak