Chairman of the Implementation Committee for the International Health Regulations (IHR), Dr James Knight, said that Antigua and Barbuda is firmly committed to fully implementing the Core Capacities of said regulations in a timely manner.
The International Health Regulations cover many major components of public health.
Dr. Knight outlined a number of the Core Capacities which the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) who govern the regulations, want each country to implement.
An extended deadline, from June 2014 to June 2016, has been set for all countries to implement these priority areas of the IHR.
According to Dr. Knight, the OECS, as well as France and Britain, were officially granted an extension, as most of the islands, including the French and British territories in the region, are not yet fully prepared in all areas of the core capacities outlined.
He said that although the Minister of Health and the Environment Molwyn Joseph has observed that other countries have similar and greater gaps on the journey to implementation, the Minister believes that Antigua and Barbuda is poised to take the lead in meeting the deadline.
Speaking on the importance of the IHR, Dr. Knight said that WHO/PAHO wants to ensure that the standards of public health safety and practices are the same in all member countries.
In hinting the vast scope of work that is yet to be done by the national committee, Dr. Knight outlined the gaps that now exist in Antigua and Barbuda’s quest towards implementation of the IHR.
‘We have a risk communication plan that is not yet fully developed and tested in an actual emergency or national simulation exercise, and an active IHR Webpage is yet to come on stream”, Dr Knight stated.
In terms of public health emergency and preparedness response, Dr. Knight noted that a National Public Health Emergency Response Plan has to be implemented and tested also in an actual emergency or a national simulation exercise.
‘This is something we have to be fully prepared for; do desk top exercises with the various agencies and so on, so when the full exercise is staged, many of the IHR Core Capacities would come into play and we would not be practicing to make errors, but rather to identify and correct them”, Dr Knight stressed.
In stressing the importance of proper planning for public health emergencies, the IHR Implementation Officer said a directory or a list of experts for health emergency response is crucial, and specific programmes with allocated budgets to train workforce for IHR relevant hazards must be in place.
Dr. Knight highlighted that the diagnostic capacity of the lab, and licensing and accreditation to handle certain types of tests must be reviewed.
He further disclosed that in terms of Points of Entry, Antigua and Barbuda is still lagging a bit in some relevant Legislations, Regulations and Administrative Acts, Protocols and Procedures, and other government instruments to facilitate IHR implementation at designated points of interests.
He said the designated ports of entry referred to in this context are the lone International Airport and the whole of St. John’s Harbour, although Falmouth Harbour comes into focus as deemed necessary.
In pointing to the core capacity which speaks to emergency medical or diagnostic capacities at ports of entry, Dr. Knight further explained that this is hardly a concerning issue as access to the main health facility from both major ports could be an easy run with adequate ambulance service.
“In the worldwide scheme of things, we really don’t have that to worry about because the port of entry diagnostic or treatment facility in Britain, France and USA, and other developed countries, probably won’t be any closer to their ports than Mount St. John is to ours. You look at a big country with a big airport; any facility you have for the port of entry is not going to be right at the airport. We have such a short ambulance run to make here, that we don’t count that as a gap’ Dr. Knight pointed out.
With regards to the analysis of food safety events/food borne illnesses, Dr. Knight said he believes that increasing capacity to do so is what is really required, as already this effort is conducted at the national level, spearheaded by the Chief Health Inspector, Lionel Michael.
However, he noted that the country is not prepared to handle chemical events, thus the need for a Chemical Events Response Plan which should also be tested, and the establishment of a poison center is also crucial.
In terms of radiation emergencies, Dr Knight noted that as members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Antigua and Barbuda will now receive the technical advice and support necessary to build capacity in this area.
Dr Knight sees the national simulation exercise as the most immediately challenging of the core capacity activities to be met, given the scope of involvement necessary to make it serve the intended purpose.
‘Lots of the other core capacities sort of a come into that national response; the response is going to involve testing our risk communication and other plans; the Quarantine Act and other relevant legislation, our human resources, etc. So to me, working towards the testing of a national health
emergency response in itself is going to be a major part in the preparation to fulfilling the implementation of the Core Capacities’, Dr. Knight concluded.
He however noted that work on the IHR is not just about meeting the demands for June this year, if we manage to do so. It is about sustainability.
“It’s not about getting full marks in an exam. It is about setting a standard which we will be expected to maintain and for which we will be continuously tested by PAHO/WHO”, Dr. Knight concluded.
The other individuals along with Dr. Knight, making up the National Focal Point for the IHR implementation on the national level are, the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Health Inspector, the Medical Officer of Health and the Director of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS).