Are we prepared for small pox?
Stabroek News
December 5, 2001

Dear Editor,

I have just finished watching a programme on CNN about how the US government is preparing to combat the fear of a small pox outbreak by means of terrorism and asked myself if my country of birth is prepared or preparing for such an eventuality. I know many people might now be saying why should Guyana be worried about that?

Well, here's why. God forbid the germ is let loose here in the USA and during the incubation period before it is known and before Guyana can issue bans on people coming into Guyana from the USA someone was exposed to it and traveled to Guyana not knowing they are infected can you imagine what will happen?

First, not only will that person alone coming into Guyana have that plague but everyone else on that aircraft may have contracted it, not to mention the workers at the airport they come in contact with and it does not need embracing anyone for them to become infected, I know members of the medical profession are well aware of how it can be easily spread.

Here in the USA the government is in the process of acquiring a vaccine for every individual in the country to be inoculated in the event of an outbreak. I have not yet read if the Guyana government has started acquiring this vaccine, if they have not why not? Just so you do not think I am an alarmist Great Britain is already armed for such an eventuality. Remember, our population is very small. According to what I saw on this programme it can cause death to 1/3 of those infected and can leave others severely handicapped, including total blindness.

Yours faithfully,

Nat Griffith

Editor's note

Chief Medical Officer Dr Rudolph Cummings told Stabroek News that Guyana does not have small pox vaccines in store. Guyana last administered small pox vaccines in 1979 when the last case was found either in Africa or Asia. Two years later the World Health Organisation signed a convention declaring the world free of the disease. Four countries had retained the virus for experimental purposes - the USA, Great Britain, Russia and France. Since Guyana does not have the vaccines and in the event of a real threat, Dr Cummings said that Guyana would have to depend on institutions such as the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation to negotiate with countries such as the USA which is taking steps to manufacture the vaccines, to acquire them. It is estimated that one such vaccine would cost US$2.76 per dose. In the meantime, he noted that the Ministry of Health is also keeping watch on developments in relation to the threat.