St. Lucia and the rest of the world have signed on to the International Health Regulations with St. Lucia aiming to be fully compliant with the provision of the IHR by June 2016. The International Health Regulations, of 15th June 2007, are an international legal instrument that is binding on 196 countries across the globe, including all the Member States of WHO. Their aim is to help the international community prevent and respond to acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders and threaten people worldwide.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Merlene Fredericks said, “Just by looking at the diseases that we’ve had to battle with recently, in terms of the vector borne diseases, the strange influenzas the strange flues, we’re hearing or other weird diseases around the world because of the new and re-emerging diseases it’s very important that countries can show that they have the capacity to address those threats without hindering travel and trade and at the same time ensure that the public and visitors are protected.”
Dr. Fredericks was in attendance at a stakeholder consultation on the Draft Quarantine Bill which is expected to replace and completely overhaul the current Quarantine Act of 1954. In attendance at this consultation were representatives from the airline and shipping industries, St. Lucia Air and Seaport Authority, National Emergency Management Office, Ministry of Health Officials and other government agencies.
Parker Ragnanan, International Health Regulations Coordinator for St. Lucia said the current bill has a number of weaknesses which much be strengthened.
“Under the old Quarantine Act, we were restricted to only six infectious diseases now we are looking at having regulations for all infectious diseases as well as having regulations for other public health hazards which may not necessarily be an infectious disease. So it can be other events, disasters, chemical events, radiation, nuclear events. It’s really broader than what we initially had. Also it gives permission for the competent authority to quarantine people who are probably coming into the country or nationals who may be sick with specific diseases. This new act would give the authority for being able to quarantine and also for the minister to be able to identify quarantine facilities and so forth.”
A national committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary is overseeing St. Lucia’s readiness for the International Health Regulations. The Quarantine and Public Health Act are the two key pieces of legislation being reviewed by a legal adviser and stakeholders at the consultation with the aim of make these legal instruments IHR compliant by the end of May 2016.
The Chief Medical Officer added, “In addition to the legislative requirements we also have the port health requirements and we do have at our main ports officers who can monitor and screen passengers if needs be. The epidemiological component is also a key component and we have strengthened our surveillance. Ebola gave us a further opportunity to strengthen our surveillance to ensure that we are able to pick up threats in a timely way and address them. It’s all encompassing, there are infection control components, there are components which refer to the hospitals and the ability of the hospitals to protect patients from getting infected in the hospital setting and we believe that St. Lucia should be well on its way to achieving compliance by June of this year.”
Building on the unique experience of WHO in global disease surveillance, alert and response, the IHR define the rights and obligations of countries to report public health events, and establish a number of procedures that WHO must follow in its work to uphold global public health security.