The World Health Organisation (WHO) and us

In recent days, Grenada and the rest of the world have watched as the World Health Organisation (WHO) presented updated guidelines on safety measures to limit the spread of Covid-19.

The WHO was clear from the onset of the updates, in stating that every country’s response strategy must be “to find, isolate, test and care for every case and to trace and quarantine every contact.” All other guidelines, according to WHO, should be part of an “overall comprehensive strategy.”

At first listen, several of the WHO’s guidelines seem to run contrary to what our Ministry of Health has proposed, or mandated here at home. Let us start with the guidelines on the wearing of masks.

The WHO’s latest guidelines for the wearing of masks, might have, rightfully, left confusion in the minds of many. According to the WHO, “the general public should wear non-medical masks where there is widespread transmission and when physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments.”

What is Grenada’s requirement, when it comes to the wearing of masks? The 2 most recent iterations of the Emergency Powers mandate that “every person shall, whenever he is outside of his place of residence, wear a mask or suitable covering over his nose and mouth.”

Any discerning Grenadian will undoubtedly question the imposition of what is, seemingly, a very harsh position on masks by the local authorities. After all, Grenadians were informed just under a week ago that we only have 1 active case of Covid-19. A week before that, we were at 4 active cases, and we had not had a case announcement in quite a few days. Aggressive testing and contact tracing continue, and Grenada’s Covid caseload has declined. Through all that, Grenadians are now mandated, by law, to wear masks in public, when the WHO has asked that masks be worn in public only when there is widespread transmission of the disease and when physical distancing is not possible.

So, what should it be?

Let us be clear. Our local health team is by no means disregarding the guidelines of the WHO. Our local health professionals are by no means trying to impose draconian measures on the Grenadian public; neither are we trying to prove ourselves untrustworthy. We understand that in this pandemic crisis, trust is the most valuable currency, and we have gone above and beyond in our practices to ensure that we trade in trust. To be effective at that, we are also resolute in our belief that we must stay at least one step ahead of the updates surrounding this evolving disease.

We must go further than the WHO has advised. Why?

The WHO is accountable to billions of citizens the world over. Their guidelines must consider compromise positions that work for the totality of their members. The Ministry of Health, Grenada, on the other hand, is accountable to approximately 110,000 citizens here at home, and our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora. Our position must be based on what we deem is in the best interest of our citizens. Our position and guidelines must be based on what is necessary, given our own concerns and assessments of our position. Our position must be to safeguard the lives of Grenadians, and those who visit our shores. Our position must reflect our own realities.

What are our realities?

While we have made significant strides in the last few months in bolstering our healthcare system, we understand that it is still very fragile.

We know that it takes one outbreak of the disease to cripple our fledgling health system and doom our economy.

We are highly cognisant that, in order to save lives, we need to go further, to do more, to try harder, than the basic advisory.

For small island developing states like Grenada, crisis is often too close to our doors for us to sit on our laurels on the front porch, doing what is advised. We need to go the distance. We need to go beyond the boundary. That is why we closed our borders before the WHO advised that countries should do so.

We urged citizens to maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet, when the world guideline was still only 3 feet.

We asked that everyone wear masks when in public places, when WHO gave a more nuanced breakdown of the conditions under which masks should be worn.

From the very beginning, we isolated asymptomatic carriers of the disease when the evidence was, and is still unclear as to how likely they are to spread the disease…and we will continue to do so.

We did not do all of this to undermine the WHO’s brilliant work; neither did we do all of this to impose uncomfortable sanctions on the Grenadian public.

We did all of this to save lives at home; to safeguard our healthcare system; to protect our economy; and to ultimately try to be one step ahead because we know that we cannot afford to be caught off guard in this pandemic.

We continue to look to the WHO, the Pan American Health Organisation, the Caribbean Public Health Agency and the other multilateral agencies and governing bodies for their guidance, as we navigate this very unprecedented and unpredictable crisis. We respect their guidelines and we will always ensure that we do our best to observe them — but we will always try to ensure that we go a little further than their advisories.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Grenadian public can be assured that we will never go contrary, or do less than they advise.

We will continue to follow the WHO’s mandates to “find, isolate, test and care for every case and to trace and quarantine every contact.” In one accord with the WHO, we continue to remind that all the safety measures against Covid-19 must be taken as a comprehensive strategy, in order to ensure maximum effectiveness.

So, we urge you to practice frequent hand washing; wear your masks when out in public, AND maintain at least 6 feet physical distancing from the next person.

Together, we can save lives.

Ministry of Health

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