“The more we know the better we’ll be able to cope with this global challenge”.
This statement came from Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Sir Hilary Beckles as he opened a forum themed, Demystifying the Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) hosted by the University on Thursday, January 30, 2020.
During the two-hour, livestreamed event which convened regional experts to examine issues related to the Coronavirus outbreak, the announcement came that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared the virus outbreak a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’.
Vice-Chancellor Beckles noted, “The UWI is comforted in the fact that it has established this expertise to guide not only the institution but the region, citizens, families and to participate in the global search for solutions. It goes beyond the area of biology, biochemistry medicine but also generally behavioral sciences.”
The forum which took a panel discussion and livestreamed Q & A format, heard presentations by Professor Christine Carrington, Molecular Genetics and Virology Expert at The UWI, St Augustine Campus; Professor Clive Landis, Zika Task Force Chair and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Undergraduate Studies at The UWI; Dr Sandra Jackson, Department of Microbiology at The UWI, Mona Campus; Dr Joy St. John, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and Dr Roshan Parasram, Chief Medical Officer for Trinidad and Tobago.
It was chaired by Pro Vice-Chancellor Global Affairs and Professor of Practice at The UWI, Ambassador Dr Richard Bernal.
Reiterating the purpose of the forum, Professor Clive Landis explained that the aim was “to put accurate information into the public domain.”
He stated that The UWI has a system in place and is playing an increasing role in working with stakeholders in the region and with communities to address these kinds of health emergencies similar to its response to the Zika virus in 2016.
He affirmed, “One of the most important parts of this mission is to provide reliable, trusted information.”
In her presentation, Professor Christine Carrington summarized current knowledge about the novel Coronavirus but noted that to date not enough is known about its epidemiology to draw definitive conclusions about the full clinical features of the disease, the intensity of human-to-human transmission or the original source of the outbreak.
Speaking to the Caribbean’s readiness and response, Dr Sandra Jackson highlighted the role the microbiology laboratory at the University Hospital has played over the years.
She recalled that Jamaica has previously been exposed to viral outbreaks and pandemics and has coped adequately.
She assured that the University’s Department of Microbiology has the laboratory expertise to assist Jamaica in managing this outbreak, as it did for previous epidemics, noting the Influenza outbreak of 2009 and Zika epidemic in 2016.
Dr Joy St. John said that CARPHA has activated an incident management team and is coordinating the regional health preparedness and response.
She reported that there is currently no known case of the virus in the Caribbean, and advised that individuals follow credible sources for information on the virus.
Dr Roshan Parasram outlined Trinidad and Tobago’s national response to the virus, noting that there are similar responses in the other Caribbean countries.
He indicated that among precautionary activities in Trinidad and Tobago, surveillance has been strengthened at points of entry, thermal scanners are being used, training of physicians and healthcare workers has increased, standard operating procedures updated and national drills are being conducted.
The forum’s proceedings are available for viewing on demand on UWItv’s website www.uwitv.org and social media channels.
It will also be rebroadcasted on UWItv’s cable channel on Flow EVO on February 8 at 7:30 p.m. (AST).
Initiating this forum is one aspect of The UWI’s response efforts.
The University’s coordination with regional governments is ongoing, with a more specific concern to it students and staff who are currently deployed in China at the UWI-China Institute of Information Technology (UWICIIT).
It continues close communication with its partner, the Global Institute of Software Technology (GIST) to ensure safety and wellbeing of the students and staff, while engaging global precautionary measures as well as the positions adopted by its stakeholder governments in relation to travel advisories and screening protocols.