14 JANUARY 2016
PHILIPSBURG–The draft public health ordinance discussed in a public plenary session of Parliament on Wednesday is intended to protect the population from public health risks such as highly contagious communicable diseases.
“It is really about protecting the people and about protecting the borders of the country,” Health Minister Emil Lee told Members of Parliament (MPs) during the meeting, which was adjourned to Friday, after the first round, to give the minister a chance to answer questions posed.
If passed, the draft will replace “outdated legislation” on this issue. Lee said the draft legislation puts in place the tools needed that allows for proper monitoring and addressing of potential threats and allows the ministry to react “in a proper manner” and allow them to manage public health crises in the country. It also manages and controls the entry of goods into the country such as hazardous chemicals, fruits and vegetables.
Lee said as a tourist destination with about 2.5 million visitors annually via air and cruise, St. Maarten is exposed to global travellers and as such the transfer of infectious diseases is high for the destination.
“The purpose of the draft legislation is to replace outdated legislation and comply with international regulations set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The current legislation is outdated and not fully compliant,” Lee told MPs. The ministry has been working on the draft legislation for about four years.
It focuses on vulnerable groups. “It is not that we are not concerned about other groups. But chikungunya and dengue should not be life threatening diseases if someone is in good health. It would just be a severe flu-like illness, but for children and the elderly who are in not in good health, are more susceptible to complications and even fatality,” the minister said.
Neo-natal Screening has been added to the draft ordinance. This is basically heel prick conducted on babies at birth to determine whether they have one of several genetic conditions that can lead to other serious conditions.
The draft legislation also commits government to report risks prevention and policies and promote cooperation for non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer and respiratory diseases amongst others.
Head of Public Health Fenna Arnell said the legislation outlines the notification responsibilities for health care providers as well as for pilots of aircraft and commanders of cruise and other vessels entering the country. These persons are required to report suspected or determined cases of communicable infections of an individual or group of persons that can be a threat, to the Health Ministry’s Collective Preventive Services (CPS).
Based on the type of infection, CPS will then notify the Minster of Public Health. If the threat is serious, the minister can decide to take any of a number of measures to protect the population. The ministry can also inform the Prosecutor of measures taken because of severity of the measures that can be instituted. The prosecutor can request a continuation of the measure via the court.
In the event of a severe threat from persons entering the country, the Health Minister can also instruct the port of entry to take measures to prevent the spread of diseases. One form of instruction can be to inform Princess Juliana International Airport SXM, for example, to inform travellers of preventative measures via pamphlets and brochures in arrival halls and to cooperate with medical screening measures.
The authorities can also instruct the closure of buildings or areas and to disinfect ships, aircraft or goods to prevent contamination. All operators will be responsible for any cost associated with these measures.
When it comes to the importation of goods, measures can be taken to prevent spread of diseases. In case of “reasonable suspicion,” importation of goods can be restricted.
As it relates to the cost, the country will bear the cost of the vaccination programme for kids; the neo natal screening for new-borns and for infectious disease control measures and the cost associated with the measures taken such as compensation of persons who suffered as a result of the measures such as loss of income.
The Inspectorate of Public Health will be responsible for monitoring of the implementation of the ordinance.
Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten