Barbuda’s Covid-19 management given passing grade by chair of Health Committee

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By Orville Williams

[email protected]

Despite the many persistent obstacles being faced by the sister island, the chairperson of the Barbuda Council’s Health Committee is commending the work of its medical team in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

At press time yesterday, Barbuda was dealing with a mere three active cases of Covid-19, from a total six confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, Nadia George disclosed.

Though some may say the figures are in line with the island’s small population, others could argue that the low case count is miraculous, given the fact that travel to and from the mainland is still relatively active and Antigua’s active case count is over 300, with more than 500 cases recorded in total.

Speaking on Observer AM yesterday, George explained that Barbuda’s medical team has ramped up its testing, going into the community and offering testing even to persons who are not displaying Covid-19-related symptoms.

“As of [Wednesday], we have tested over 200 persons on island [and] we have opened the lab for testing of people within the community. From any area in the community, you can go in and get your testing done, [through] the Sofia rapid test,” she said.

“I think that’s a good thing the medical team has done, in now reaching out to the community to do extensive testing, so that we can know exactly what the status of persons within our community is. It will also give us an idea of exactly where the disease is and so forth.”

The current condition of the Covid-19 patients on the island is also to be welcomed, as George further explained, with no severe cases seen since the initial infection.

“Most of them – based on the reports that we would get from the medical team – are mild, so we really haven’t had any severe cases. Only the first one we had, where we had to medevac that person over to Antigua for further medical attention. [Notwithstanding that case] most of the cases that we’ve had so far have been mild to, sometimes, even no symptoms.”

Although there is reason to feel good for Barbuda considering the low numbers and proactive attitude from the medical personnel, the island is still battling several issues, including a lack of resources and adequate personnel.  

“We don’t have an [Intensive Care Unit] ICU [and] we only have three doctors – these doctors are doing everything as you can imagine doctors would normally do within a community. They have to be in the community dealing with elderly patients, they have to be assisting with swabbing and labs etc.

“We do not have [an operating] theatre, so we would not expect to have medication to treat persons if they go into cardiac arrest [for example], and in the hospital – as it stands right now – both wards have eight beds, [so] we are not set up to care for anybody that goes into critical condition.

“So, what happens is, whenever a person reaches to that stage, we would medevac those persons out. That’s why we had to medevac our first Covid-19 patient out immediately, because our facility cannot accommodate such situations,” George said.

She added that, with four nurses available on the island, they had requested two additional nurses since last year. However, given the mainland is dealing with its own healthcare staffing concerns, George said those requests have not yet been honoured.

She also said issues with Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) are expected and since they rely on the central stores, when the mainland is affected by a lack of equipment, Barbuda is also affected.

Proper long-term planning and significant investment is likely required to improve the healthcare system on Barbuda, which may seem like a bleak prospect for the residents, given the urgency of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a bit of short-term improvement, however, Cabinet spokesperson, Information Minister Melford Nicholas, disclosed yesterday that vaccines will be made available to Barbuda within “the next few days”, in order to provide an added level of protection for the island’s healthcare workers.

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