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Summary: Ebola Preparedness in the Americas


Panelists discussed preparations against Ebola in the Americas. (AP)

November 17, 2014


  • Dr. Aaron Milstone, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology, The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
  • Dr. Marcos A. Espinal, Director of the Department of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis, Pan American Health Organization
  • Román Macaya Hayes, Ambassador of Costa Rica to the United States
  • Dr. Neil Parsan, Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago to the United States
  • Eric Farnsworth, Vice President of Council of the Americas (moderator)


Although a case of Ebola has yet to be confirmed in Latin America and the Caribbean, countries in the region are actively preparing for the worst. Governments throughout the Americas have implemented travel bans, constructed quarantine stations, invested in biosafety equipment, and reevaluated infectious disease protocols. However, some question whether this is the most effective and appropriate approach to prevent the spread of the disease. At this Council of the Americas panel, participants discussed preparations against Ebola in the region and what measures countries have taken.

Behind Closed Doors at Ebola-Ready Hospitals

According to Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Aaron Milstone, there are three key strategies to best prepare hospitals for receiving an Ebola patient. First, healthcare providers must be trained to ask patients the right questions, targeting their travel history and symptom onsets. Second, healthcare providers must know the protocols for isolating patients. And third, providers must learn to ask for help when their systems are not up to par. Milstone emphasized the importance of hospital management. “We all heard stories of panic. We heard stories of clinics where someone would come in and say ‘I’m from Sierra Leone’ and they evacuate the clinic and everyone comes in wearing the space suits…that’s not good for staff, that’s not good for patient care.”

The Communication Crisis

Speakers highlighted the role of healthcare communication in preventing the spread of Ebola. Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago to the U.S. Dr. Neil Parsan said: “The misinformation behaved as erratically, sporadically, and unpredictably as the virus itself.” Milstone added that the global medical response to Ebola has not been different from that to any other infectious disease outbreaks, yet the virus stands out for its worldwide public interest and media attention.

The Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) Dr. Marcos A. Espinal said his organization gathered experts to lead workshops on risk communication in Barbados, Panama, and Ecuador. In response to the Ebola outbreak, PAHO also created a communication guide for political leaders that encourages them to be transparent in the way they provide health-related information.

Case Studies: Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago

Costa Rica stands out among its neighbors in terms of healthcare infrastructure since the country has a universal healthcare system with 29 public hospitals and over 1,000 primary care clinics. Ambassador of Costa Rica to the U.S. Román Macaya Hayes noted that the biggest challenge for his country is political, given questions about whether government agencies would be able to coordinate quickly enough. Hayes said that Costa Rica recently implemented protocols for laboratories to send samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and explained that two hospitals have been assigned to admit suspected Ebola patients.

Trinidad and Tobago has also taken steps to ensure the prevention and treatment of Ebola. Parsan noted that members of the CARICOM bloc met to discuss Ebola prevention tactics and seven countries implemented travel bans. Parsan also said his country contributed $100,000 to the World Health Organization’s Ebola initiative.