Havana medics, medicine may join virus battle

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Barbados could soon be getting several specialist nurses and doctors from Cuba as Government ensures it is able to adequately treat victims of the dreaded COVID-19 virus.

At the same time, in what could be seen as a move by Government to prepare for a worst-case scenario, Barbados has ordered some of the Cuban Interferon (IFN) alfa-2B drug, which has been touted as being effective in providing treatment.

Discussions between Bridgetown and Havana come on the heels of reports that several other countries including Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Italy and the United Kingdom, have turned to Cuba for assistance.

Cuba is known for its medical practitioners, thousands of whom have been involved in medical missions around the world.

When contacted, Cuban Ambassador to Barbados Sergio Jorge Pastrana was not in a position to provide details, but confirmed to Barbados TODAY that the two countries were in discussions regarding health professionals and the provision of the IFN.

This comes several hours after Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Dr Jerome Walcott said the two countries were talking.

“I can confirm what the Minister has said. He is at liberty to express it and he said it and I confirm that it is true, we are in talks,” said Pastrana.

Addressing the Upper House yesterday during debate on the Appropriation Bill, Walcott said he was concerned for Barbados “in terms of what lies ahead of us”, indicating that the country could see a lot more than the current 18 individuals that have tested positive for COVID-19.

“I am concerned as I watch the panic in some parts of the country in terms of preparation and concerned as I note we are trying to make ourselves ready to face the consequences of this pandemic,” said Walcott, who also admitted that he was “worried” about the mortality rate internationally.

However, adding that he had “a sense of hope” that the globe will get over this soon, Walcott indicated that his ministry had a role to play in the efforts to combat the virus and get assistance.

In explaining this, Walcott said he has had several phone calls in recent days trying to facilitate assistance from overseas.

“These are the things you have to do. You are on the phone and you are speaking with the Ambassador of Cuba trying to work out how many Cuban nurses we need in terms of human resources requirements to deal with this, how many doctors, in which specialty, recognizing that in terms of critical care and respiratory specialists that we are deficient,” said Walcott.

“So that is the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in this regard, it is not that the Ministry is taking on any role of health as said by certain persons,” said Walcott.

He gave no indication of the number of specialist nurses or doctors the island could be requesting or what quantity of the medication, or how soon.

In relation to the Cuban IFN, which is currently the topic of much discussion, Walcott said: “There is a lot of excitement about Interferon being used that is coming from Cuba”.

“Certainly, it has been around for a while and they have, apparently in terms of papers written, good success in China and other countries in terms of this Interferon, and indeed, Barbados had ordered some of the Interferon from Cuba, to be used hopefully if we have to, because as I said the majority of our cases have thus far been mild to moderate cases and I sincerely hope it remains like that,” said Walcott.

The efficacy of the Cuban medicine, developed in the early 1980’s and extensively used, has been demonstrated in the treatment of a wide range of viral infections by boosting the immune system.

Walcott gave the assurance that the island was stocking up on at least six month’s supply of pharmaceuticals.

However, on the issue of food security, he gave an indication that while the country had ample supplies to last a while, there were some items that could run low in coming months if steps were not taken now to provide a buffer.

“I think Barbadians are doing quite well. I think most of them have stockpiled what they think they will need, but we have recognized that there are certain trends that we have been seeing when we look at the information from the Ministry of Commerce in terms of certain shortages and important things. These are things we need to address, but I am not going to mention them so as to not create any panic,” said Walcott.
marlonmadden@barbadostoday.bb

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