October 29-30, some 278 specialists and authorities from 34 countries met in Havana to discuss technical issues related to the prevention and treatment of Ebola.

Dr. Jairo Méndez, Virology and Laboratory consultant from the World and Pan American Health Organizations. Foto: Jose M. Correa

José Ángel Portal Miranda, a Cuban deputy minister of Public Health, reiterated that the epidemic constitutes a great risk to humanity, since new cases continue to be diagnosed and the number of dead continues to rise, emphasizing that, if a struggle is not waged to stop dissemination of the virus, one of the worst pandemics in human history could develop.

Only with adequate preparation and joint work can the spread of the epidemic be avoided, he said, concluding, “Participants have reached agreement on national training programs, so what is needed is political will, organization, rigor and efficiency.”

Most likely, he commented, is that a few cases of Ebola will be introduced into the region, thus the importance of remaining vigilant, building awareness and sharing national information with the international community, adding at the close of the event, “We are today more united and better prepared.”

The event was useful and showed the region’s solidarity. Experiences were exchanged, doors opened, hands shaken and coordination established. Everything was recorded, including recommendations from all working commissions.

Dr. Marcia Cobas, a Cuban deputy minister of Public Health presented a summary of decisions made during the meeting, with several lines of action proposed, including a focus on maintaining epidemiological vigilance, promoting the development of multi-disciplinary teams and clinical treatment for patients.

Also recommended was the creation in each country of a national center to coordinate measures implemented to prevent introduction of the virus, ensure strict adherence to safe practices as established by the WHO and define procedures for sending patient blood samples for testing.

Another critical issue discussed was the provision of equipment and protective gear at accessible prices, and the establishment of an emergency supply, to be made available in the event of an emergency.

Responding to the need for training of medical personnel, plans were made for a first international course on the prevention and treatment of Ebola, to be held November 10-15 in Havana’s Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine.

“Today is a very special day because we are coming together as the result of an illness which could affect the American continent, we are meeting to share our experiences and needs and undertake the search for solutions directed toward saving human lives, in defense of humanity,” said Dr. Juan Carlos Calvimonte, Bolivia’s minister of Health.

“In the name of President Evo and the people of Bolivia, I would like to say to the sister people of Cuba: Many thanks for having created this opportunity for technical preparation, long live America, long live Fidel and long live Raúl!” he concluded.

During the commission meetings, a total of 151 comments, reports and recommendations were made, allowing for a broad discussion of key issues in the fight against Ebola.

Dr. Carmen Rosa Fernández Martínez reported on the deliberations of the Clinical Management Commission, attended by 76 delegates and guests from 18 countries. Action plans agreed upon were focused on establishing observation procedures for persons traveling from affected areas who may have been infected, and the identification of locations which could be used for this purpose.

Also established was an agreement on the need to conduct secondary laboratory tests on symptomatic patients, or those at risk for infection, if the first is negative. The second test must be conducted within 48 hours of the first, to ensure that patients are quickly transferred to special centers for treatment, in the event of a positive diagnosis.

Rapid response teams will include a stable group of epidemiological doctors, emergency care nurses, and other trained specialists, and be available 24 hours a day.

Should treatment of children become necessary, plans for family companions will be made. If the companion is also infected, he or she need not use protective gear, but if this is not the case, such equipment will be provided.

Follow-up and evaluation of patients will be fundamentally clinical with blood samples preferably kept at the site of treatment, although the diagnosis must be validated at a certified laboratory.

Cooperation between authorities is of vital importance to the transportation of patients’ blood samples across borders and no suspected patient should be released before two laboratory tests showing negative results are conducted, participants in this commission emphasized.

Francisco Duran García reported for the Epidemiological Commission, led by José Ángel Portal, a Cuban deputy minister of Public Health, and attended by 85 delegates from 29 countries.

In the first place, emphasized was the need to reinforce vigilance measures in each country, and their coordination at a national center, to strengthen the national and regional response. Also key to preventative measures is timely international communication, especially in regards to the arrival of planes and ships to a country.

Participating in the Training and Professional Development Commission were 31 delegates from 17 countries, who agreed to expand training to facilitate the exchange of experiences among experts, and increase knowledge regarding identification of the virus to support the establishment of laboratories.

The Social Communication Commission was led by Dr. Marcia Cobas and attended by 35 specialists from 14 countries, along with representatives from Cuba’s Civil Defense system, the Association of Social Communicators, the University of Havana Communications faculty, and the Institute of Cuban Radio and Television.

This team agreed to strengthen the management of social communication in regards to Ebola via the creation of communications groups, on the national and regional level, to support and identify a common spokesperson, ensure the use of international protocols on the communication of risks, and promote ethical management of information.

The commission made plans to design national and regional public information campaigns which include maps and messages, and to identify technology resources available to the region.

Participants emphasized that these plans require the raising of funds for campaigns, including the production and distribution of materials directed toward the most vulnerable sectors of the population.

Also identified as a need was reinforcing the work of regional media such as Telesur, Radio del Sur and others, to encourage the production of educational materials on the issue, and ensure their distribution in rural and urban areas.