According to Espinal, who is leading PAHO’s support for preparedness and response in the region’s countries, local transmission of Ebola can be prevented or interrupted if any imported cases are detected and isolated early, and if contacts of the infected person are identified and monitored.
“The truth is that we cannot rule out the possibility that a case of Ebola could reach our shores or our countries,” he said in an interview here.
“The risk is there, and we have to prepare ourselves for this eventuality. Good preparation means planning ahead. We can’t say what we do will be perfect, and we can’t say that a case will never reach us. But if we minimize the risk of local transmission, we will be doing our job.”
But Espinal said if cases of Ebola appear in the region, “it is important to isolate them rapidly and identify the contacts—the people who had contact with that person—because that is where the virus is going to be interrupted.”
He said this approach has been proven to work with outbreaks in Africa since 1976.
“If we don’t identify contacts, that’s how the disease spreads, with the virus possibly spreading to any of our countries,” Espinal said.
PAHO’s Director Dominican-born Dr. Carissa Etienne has been emphasizing strong support for Latin American and Caribbean countries, calling for the engagement of everyone in PAHO in a corporate response that mobilizes all of the organization’s resources.
Etienne has appointed a task force that meets every week to discuss strategies, consider new ideas, innovate, and review progress in the countries as they prepare to respond.
The task force comprises directors from PAHO’s key technical and administrative areas.
PAHO is also offering to send teams to regional countries to meet with authorities in the ministries, provide training, and “tie up loose ends so we will all be prepared,” said Etienne.