22nd April 2016
The Head of the OECS Commission has underscored the importance of a coordinated, collective approach to halt the spread of the Zika Virus and consequently its negative impact on countries within the region.
Director General of the OECS Commission Dr. Didacus Jules made the point while addressing the Third Meeting of the OECS Council of Tourism Ministers today (Thurs) at the Sandals Grande Antigua Resort and Spa.
A regional approach to addressing the Zika virus and its implications for the vital tourism sector formed part of the agenda for the meeting which focused on a number of Tourism matters.
Dr. Jules disclosed that the OECS health ministers under the auspices of the Council of Ministers have been responding commendably as a collective force.
He said since the inauguration of the OECS Ministers of Health council, the ministers of health have been holding regular meetings.
In fact, Dr. Jules said in a period of 13 months, 49 virtual meetings were held as every Tuesday, ministers of health or the CMO's are on line discussing health issues including Zika.
Dr. Jules stated, "Not just talking but actively collaborating and exchanging and parenthetically I may add that that represents for me what the OECS should really be all about. We at the commission are not some central, super national authority; we should be a facilitating mechanism that enables ministries to talk to each other, exchange skills and expertise, share resources for the benefit of all".
He also spoke about the Four- Point OECS- wide campaign for Zika which includes monitoring and surveillance, eradication and protection, care and case management and a widespread public education campaign.
Notwithstanding these policy actions on paper, Dr. Jules said credit can only be taken if they are continually, collaboratively and expeditiously implemented and enforced on the ground.
"Given the considerable stake of the sector, you have a crucial partnership role to play in this campaign to fight against this demoralizing disease", Dr. Jules stated
Dr. Jules warns however that the coming months and years will not be free of challenges.
He said it will be foolhardy of leaders in the OECS to downplay what could potentially be the most detrimental issue looming large on the tourism sector- the Zika Virus, especially when authorities in the main source markets have already started their campaigns to deter visits to the region.
"Our largest source market, the United States which accounted for 14.3 million visits to the Caribbean last year representing just half of our arrivals , has already cautioned its residents", Dr. Jules noted.
He said the U.S Centre for Disease Control and Prevention issued the traveler note for 22 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean encouraging travelers to avoid exposure to the virus.
"This warning is unique among travel health alerts in that it recommends that women who are pregnant ,avoid travelling to regions where local transmission of the virus is taking place and that women who are planning to become pregnant, review travel plans with their doctor before travelling", the OECS head stated.
He said added to that is the fact that there've been many reported cases of Zika in our main source market, the United States.
He said a Reuter's poll conducted in early February 2016 concluded that swiftly spreading Zika Virus is discouraging many Americans from traveling to Latin America and the Caribbean.
He said countries have already begun to feel those impacts even here in Antigua and Barbuda as of February 1st 2016 the Antigua Hotels and Tourist Association reported losses of at least 50 thousand in loss business due to cancellations of bookings and to date there have been no confirmed cases here in Antigua and Barbuda.
He said similarly even before St .Lucia had any reported cases of patients with Zika, perspective travelers were already cancelling travel plans.
While at least four confirmed cases of Zika is reported in St Lucia, the OECS officials said the number of cancellations are very likely to increase.
The World Bank estimates that the short-term economic impact of the outbreak in Latin America and the Caribbean at a total of 3.5 billion U.S dollars or 0.6 percent of GDP in lost revenue from travel for 2016, which could be regarded as moderate.
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