EXPERTS MEET IN HAVANA
Better prepared to confront Ebola
October 29-30, some 278 specialists and authorities
from 34 countries met in Havana to discuss technical
issues related to the prevention and treatment of
Dr. Jairo Méndez, Virology and Laboratory consultant
from the World
and Pan American Health Organizations. Photo: Jose
José Ángel Portal Miranda, a Cuban deputy minister
of Public Health, reiterated that the epidemic
constitutes a great risk to humanity, since new
cases continue to be diagnosed and the number of
dead continues to rise, emphasizing that, if a
struggle is not waged to stop dissemination of the
virus, one of the worst pandemics in human history
Only with adequate preparation and joint work can
the spread of the epidemic be avoided, he said,
concluding, “Participants have reached agreement on
national training programs, so what is needed is
political will, organization, rigor and efficiency.”
Avery Hinds, coordinator of the Caribbean Public
Most likely, he commented, is that a few cases of
Ebola will be introduced into the region, thus the
importance of remaining vigilant, building awareness
and sharing national information with the
international community, adding at the close of the
event, “We are today more united and better
The event was useful and showed the region’s
solidarity. Experiences were exchanged, doors
opened, hands shaken and coordination established.
Everything was recorded, including recommendations
from all working commissions.
Dr. Marcia Cobas, a Cuban deputy minister of Public
Health presented a summary of decisions made during
the meeting, with several lines of action proposed,
including a focus on maintaining epidemiological
vigilance, promoting the development of
multi-disciplinary teams and clinical treatment for
Also recommended was the creation in each country of
a national center to coordinate measures implemented
to prevent introduction of the virus, ensure strict
adherence to safe practices as established by the
WHO and define procedures for sending patient blood
samples for testing.
Another critical issue discussed was the provision
of equipment and protective gear at accessible
prices, and the establishment of an emergency
supply, to be made available in the event of an
Responding to the need for training of medical
personnel, plans were made for a first international
course on the prevention and treatment of Ebola, to
be held November 10-15 in Havana’s Pedro Kouri
Institute of Tropical Medicine.
“Today is a very special day because we are coming
together as the result of an illness which could
affect the American continent, we are meeting to
share our experiences and needs and undertake the
search for solutions directed toward saving human
lives, in defense of humanity,” said Dr. Juan Carlos
Calvimonte, Bolivia’s minister of Health.
“In the name of President Evo and the people of
Bolivia, I would like to say to the sister people of
Cuba: Many thanks for having created this
opportunity for technical preparation, long live
America, long live Fidel and long live Raúl!” he
During the commission meetings, a total of 151
comments, reports and recommendations were made,
allowing for a broad discussion of key issues in the
fight against Ebola.
Dr. Carmen Rosa Fernández Martínez reported on the
deliberations of the Clinical Management Commission,
attended by 76 delegates and guests from 18
countries. Action plans agreed upon were focused on
establishing observation procedures for persons
traveling from affected areas who may have been
infected, and the identification of locations which
could be used for this purpose.
Also established was an agreement on the need to
conduct secondary laboratory tests on symptomatic
patients, or those at risk for infection, if the
first is negative. The second test must be conducted
within 48 hours of the first, to ensure that
patients are quickly transferred to special centers
for treatment, in the event of a positive diagnosis.
Rapid response teams will include a stable group of
epidemiological doctors, emergency care nurses, and
other trained specialists, and be available 24 hours
Should treatment of children become necessary, plans
for family companions will be made. If the companion
is also infected, he or she need not use protective
gear, but if this is not the case, such equipment
will be provided.
Follow-up and evaluation of patients will be
fundamentally clinical with blood samples preferably
kept at the site of treatment, although the
diagnosis must be validated at a certified
Cooperation between authorities is of vital
importance to the transportation of patients’ blood
samples across borders and no suspected patient
should be released before two laboratory tests
showing negative results are conducted, participants
in this commission emphasized.
Francisco Duran García reported for the
Epidemiological Commission, led by José Ángel
Portal, a Cuban deputy minister of Public Health,
and attended by 85 delegates from 29 countries.
In the first place, emphasized was the need to
reinforce vigilance measures in each country, and
their coordination at a national center, to
strengthen the national and regional response. Also
key to preventative measures is timely international
communication, especially in regards to the arrival
of planes and ships to a country.
Participating in the Training and Professional
Development Commission were 31 delegates from 17
countries, who agreed to expand training to
facilitate the exchange of experiences among
experts, and increase knowledge regarding
identification of the virus to support the
establishment of laboratories.
The Social Communication Commission was led by Dr.
Marcia Cobas and attended by 35 specialists from 14
countries, along with representatives from Cuba’s
Civil Defense system, the Association of Social
Communicators, the University of Havana
Communications faculty, and the Institute of Cuban
Radio and Television.
This team agreed to strengthen the management of
social communication in regards to Ebola via the
creation of communications groups, on the national
and regional level, to support and identify a common
spokesperson, ensure the use of international
protocols on the communication of risks, and promote
ethical management of information.
The commission made plans to design national and
regional public information campaigns which include
maps and messages, and to identify technology
resources available to the region.
Participants emphasized that these plans require the
raising of funds for campaigns, including the
production and distribution of materials directed
toward the most vulnerable sectors of the
Also identified as a need was reinforcing the work
of regional media such as Telesur, Radio
del Sur and others, to encourage the production
of educational materials on the issue, and ensure
their distribution in rural and urban areas.