By Carl Joseph
As work continues on the Margetson Ward to convert the former unit of the old Holberton Hospital into the Infectious Disease Management Complex (IDMC) by this weekend, officials from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) will be on island next week to advise on how the health workers are to be equipped to handle COVID-19.
“We have asked PAHO to come back into Antigua and give some refresher training [this time] specifically for COVID-19,” the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Rhonda Sealy-Thomas disclosed during a press briefing held by the Ministry of Health yesterday.
The CMO gave assurances that many of the island’s health care workers have already been trained in handling infectious diseases, but said that she is looking forward to having those who would have joined the department since the Ebola preparations in 2014.
Meanwhile, he Ministry of Health is designing the new IDMC to be equipped to handle any outbreak of COVID-19 in Antigua and Barbuda.
A key feature of the new centre will be the establishment of a laboratory that will be able to test for COVID-19.
During the press conference, Minister of Health Molwyn Joseph told the press that the work on the lab has already begun and that the radiology lab at the former Holberton Hospital will be retrofitted to house it.
“That radiology unit was built with thick walls and a concrete roof. So, in terms of disease escaping [the lab], that would not be too much of a concern because that type of facility is ideal for a laboratory,” he said.
The health minister said that the complete retrofitting of the IDMC, to include the new lab, would be done in a matter 30 days.
In cases where the island had to prepare for infectious diseases in the past – such as Zika and Ebola – test samples were usually sent to a lab in Trinidad and Tobago and the wait time was up to six weeks.
“With this lab now being established in Antigua and Barbuda, we’ll be able to get specimens and results in probably a turnaround time of about four hours,” Joseph said.
The minister said this was a “tremendous advantage” in the fight against the eventual arrival of the disease to the island’s shores.
Should laboratory test confirm someone being positive for the virus, this will trigger the local protocol, which will include isolation management at the IDMC.
The isolation/quarantine unit will consist of 35 rooms, 10 of which have been earmarked solely for isolation, with 25 for the purpose of quarantine.
“The facility will also include approximately six rooms to accommodate health care workers,” Joseph said.
Five rooms will be constructed for the nurses and one will be dedicated for the doctor, all of whom will be working on a shift basis.
Joseph said that great care is being taken to safeguard against those health care providers working with suspected and infected persons, once they start engaging with those persons. The ministry continues to advise the general population on proper hygiene practices to reduce the possible contraction or spread of the virus which include frequent hand washing, avoid touching the eyes and mouth, proper respiratory hygiene, sneezing and coughing into one’s elbow, and staying informed.