“I was overwhelmed. I had anxiety. I still do!”
As Seychelles revs up its vaccination campaign against COVID-19, the Indian Government donates 50,000 doses of the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca vaccine to Seychelles in a bid to help the country reach herd immunity as fast as possible.
The vaccines are produced in India by the Serum Institute
They came into the country by a special flight of the Indian air-force on Friday 22nd January.
Present at the Seychelles International airport to receive the consignment were the Indian High Commissioner to Seychelles, the Seychelles Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tourism and the the Seychelles Minister for Health.
By the close of business on Friday 22nd January 2022, Seychelles had vaccinated around 17% of its population with the Sinopharm vaccine it received in December from the United Arab Emirates. This puts Seychelles high of the list of countries providing COVID vaccination coverage to their population.
Just twelve days after starting its vaccination campaign against COVID-19, Seychelles has now given the first dose of the Sinopharm vaccine to more than 10% of its population.
“In the next two weeks, we hope to intensify the campaign and reach 25% of the population
with the first dose. Soon after, we will begin the second dose,” says Dr Bernard Valentin, principal secretary of the health ministry.
Seychelles is now very high on the list of countries with an advanced COVID-19 vaccination programme. More than 100 health care workers from all over the country, broken down into smaller teams, constitute the vaccination squadron. Supporting them from behind is an additional legion of administrators who make sure that all the logistics for the programme are in place. Never has the Ministry of Health undertaken such a massive vaccination campaign.
“The staff are fully committed and energized by the strong willingness of the public to receive the vaccine,” adds Dr Bernard Valentin.
“Since the start of the campaign, there has not been any major side effect,” says Florida Bijoux, manager of the expanded programme of immunization. “Interest on the part of the people to receive their jab is continually growing.”
Seychelles entered into an abrupt phase of community transmission of COVID-19 at the end of December 2020 with cases of COVID-19 progressively rising on all three of the main islands. Recent figures indicate that over 700 people in total have contracted the infection since the first positive case in March 2020. Over 550 of cases have recovered.
A new consignment of vaccines, this time COVISHIELD vaccine of the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca type and made by Serum Institute of India will reach the country later this month.
A communique from the Ministry of Health dated 3rd January 2021 confirmed that for the first time in Seychelles a man has died of COVID-19.
The 57 year old Seychellois man died from complications of his illness at Seychelles’ Isolation and Treatment Centre for COVID-19 in the early evening hours, amid an uptick of new COVID-19 cases in the country.
In its communique, the Ministry of Health expressed condolences to the family and renewed its resolve to invest all efforts needed to break the chain of transmission.
The next day, 4th January, President of the Republic, Wavel Ramkalawan, also spoke to the nation on the death of the man and expressed “heartfelt sympathies” to the family, whom, he said, he knows personally. He provided reassurance that the country is doing every thing possible to prevent further deaths and reverse the current trend of the pandemic in the Seychelles.
More than 300 cases of COVID-19, in total, have been confirmed in Seychelles since the beginning of the pandemic. More than two thirds of these cases have recovered. More than three quarters of the cases have been foreigners who came to the country as tourists or foreign workers and were found positive on arrival.
Despite the requirement for 48 hours negative PCR test for entry into Seychelles, it has been impossible to prevent the importation of cases of the pandemic into the country.
Since after Christmas Day of 2020, the health authorities are recording a gradual increase in the number of local transmissions of COVID-19, described now as clear evidence community transmission.
Seychelles Patients Association will join teams of health care workers spread out at several strategic locations all over the country this weekend to interact with members of the public on a one-to-one basis to sensitize them further on the necessity for COVID-19 infection prevention and control.
Hand sanitizers and facemasks will be on offer to the lucky ones.
“This is all part of our overall effort to engage with the community to foster patient safety and health worker safety and is in line with the World Health Organization Theme for World Patient Safety Day this year,” says the Principal Secretary for Health, Dr Bernard Valentin and Chairperson of Seychelles Patients Association.
Now that the COVID-19 contagion is showing no sign of declining, infection prevention and control (IPC), is ever gaining ground here and abroad. It is now among the priority prevention and control programmes of the department of health. Its aim is to protect health workers and patients alike and keep infections at bay.
Ms Rita Jean, coordinator of the infection prevention and control programme says that that programme has moved a long way forward during the past ten years. She has worked directly or indirectly with it for that long and has witnessed its evolution firsthand.
“We now have 90 focal persons working alongside our team of four people who man the programme centrally,” says Ms Jean. “Fifteen among those are health and safety officers in tourism sector establishments!”
Seychelles owes part of its COVID-19 success story to the intense, relentless and rigorous training provided by the IPC team over the past six months.
The team trains colleagues and builds the necessary synergy for infection prevention and control across the health system and beyond.
The world commemorates patient safety day on 17th September every year to draw attention to the unsafe practices that patients may and do come across while seeking health care. This year the focus is on achieving patient safety through the safety of health care workers. Infection prevention and control is right at the centre of the tempest.
Patients are bewildered by the nature of transmissibility or lack thereof of COVID-19 in Seychelles.
On two occasions where a greater number of infected cases had been expected, this did not occur.
Some have attributed this to the early and correct intervention of the public health authorities whilst others have attributed it to God Almighty.
Others still attribute this to some of the theories that are beginning to appear in the international scientific community such as high rates of immunisation against other illnesses.
The real answer may lie in a combination of factors.
Meanwhile there is overwhelming evidence that hand and respiratory hygiene, social distancing and the wearing of face covering where social distancing is not possible contribute more to break the chain of transmission than any of the aforementioned. These measures are all within the control of every individual.
All over the country, patients with chronic diseases are crying out for attention.
They are reminding doctors that now more than ever before they need the care and support fitting to their disease condition.
“We do not want our appointments postponed nor refilling of our prescriptions denied just because of COVID,” said a patient.
“Our chronic illnesses matter,” she added.
Indeed, some appointments and elective operations at Seychelles Hospital have been postponed and patients are waiting for more information on the status of their care.
Health authorities have their work cut out as they grapple with a discerning clientele and an unprecedented public health emergency.
The suspension of routine Specialist Outpatient Department Clinics at Seychelles Hospital to achieve social distancing has left many older patients and patients with chronic illnesses wondering what to do to see their usual specialists at the time of their scheduled appointments or to have their prescriptions refilled.
While the Health Care Agency certainly has a business continuity plan which also addresses this, that plan has not been widely communicated.
“I do not know where to go now for my thyroid medicine,” says a middle-aged patient.
“We have been edged out! My district clinic doctor does not have any information about my thyroid issue. I cannot easily go there!”
Seychelles Patients Association has received many queries along these lines and has requested a communication from the Health Care Agency as soon as possible.
The Health Care Agency has indicated it understands the concerns raised and will soon explain what alternative arrangements are in place for various categories of patients.
The elderly and patients with chronic illnesses are the most frequent users of health services in Seychelles.
Not only is the COVID-19 illess expected to be harsher on the elderly and the chronically ill, but also it is rearing its ugly head on other aspects of life and health.
For the first time today, members of Seychelles Patients Association joined Cancer Concern Association and many others in the annual march to commemorate World Cancer Day.
The purpose of the march is to mobilize national efforts towards cancer prevention, early diagnosis and treatment. It is also to show solidarity to the patients and their relatives affected by cancer.
Chairperson of Seychelles Patients Association, Dr Bernard Valentin says that Cancer continues to be a major non-communicable disease in Seychelles.
“Cardiovascular diseases are the main causes of death (around 34.0%) followed by cancer (around 18.4% of deaths) and diabetes (around 3.0%),” he said.
Obesity in adults, alcohol consumption, tobacco use and physical inactivity contribute to the cancer pandemic.
According to statistics of the National Cancer Registry, the three most common types of cancer in men in the last five years were prostate cancer (at around 31.6% of the total number of cancers) followed by colorectal cancer (around 13.8%) and cancer of the mouth & pharynx (around 9.6%).
In the female gender, breast cancer is the most common cancer at around 32.8% of the total cancers followed by colorectal at around 12.4% and cervical cancer at around 11.6%.
Several members of Seychelles Patients Association have reiterated that the language barrier between certain foreign doctors and local patients is a major patient safety concern.
“Now that the health system is focusing on improving clinical care quality to begin comparing Seychelles with OECD countries, we need to address language barrier as early as possible” said the member of patients association at this week-end’s annual general meeting on Praslin. “It is a major patient safety matter.”
The management of Seychelles Patients Association concurs with its members that the number of foreign doctors who cannot communicate adequately with patients continues to be a major patient safety issue in Seychelles.
“The most desirable position is for doctors who cannot adequately speak any of the three local languages to be barred from practicing medicine or dentistry in Seychelles,” health professionals and patients alike have argued.
Whilst the law is broad enough to do this, policy has not followed suit, often because of challenges involved in finding an alternative doctor.
“This is not good enough,” argued one member. “Patients’ lives matter. Let’s do whatever it takes to get good doctors, doctors who can speak!” she continued.
“Sonny nou byen!”