The lone healthcare worker navigating emergency response, COVID on Fort Island

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By Isanella Patoir

isanella@newsroom.gy

Pretty Debideen is the only healthcare worker on Fort Island, located along the Essequibo River. Up until last month, Pretty had singlehandedly managed to keep the island COVID-19 free.

Three persons from the island– two teenagers and an elderly person– tested positive for the virus in October.

She told the News Room during a recent visit that the island’s success in limiting the spread of the deadly disease can be credited to strict COVID-19 guidelines there.

Despite having limited resources, Pretty said she would hold talks with the community about being safe during this time.

Fort Island has a population of just about 80 people.

“We had three cases here and right now they are negative.”

“After these three persons tested positive, being a leader here, I came together with the community and called a two-week lockdown,” Pretty explained.

All three patients were isolated at home and monitored by the healthcare worker.

Contact tracing revealed one of the teens had contracted the virus from a relative during a visit to Bartica.

“Once I see gathering, I call on the coastguard to assist me,” Pretty said.

Pretty further explained that extra precaution is taken when tourists visit the island.

“All the tours that come on Fort Island, I always be with the tour guide to make sure that every person must use a mask at all time,” she stated firmly.

Already, about 50 per cent of the island’s population is vaccinated.

Fort Island has a population of just about 80 people (Photo: News Room/November 2021)

CHALLENGES

Pretty has been the island’s healthcare worker for the past 15 years.

She is calling on the government to upgrade the health facility and to cater for another healthcare worker.

She posited that tourists coming to the island should have access to a health facility that is modern and with enough resources in the case of an emergency.

The island has no electricity, and cell phone service is not always reliable.

“Sometimes it is very difficult, seeing that I am the only healthcare person on the spot; seeing that it is a tourism site sometimes when I have to take a report or go to the hospital with a patient, the health facility will close down because there is not a next person there to assist,” Pretty explained.

Further, when she has to go on leave, the health centre is closed. Pretty revealed that sometimes, the security guard there assists her during emergencies.

While she is a trained midwife and had to do deliver babies many times in the past, she does not encourage persons to do so on the island.

“As a riverain area, we do find some persons fall short,” Pretty said.

When she cannot treat a patient herself, Pretty revealed that she would use her own boat to transport the patient to the nearest hospital – the Leonora Cottage Hospital on the West Coast of Demerara.

The health centre is also without electricity and Pretty said there is an infestation of bats that is worrisome.

She is also calling on the authorities to establish a COVID-19 sanitising and screening site on the island to better respond to the pandemic.

Additionally, Pretty also serves a few indigenous villages such as River’s View, Lower Bonasika and Morshee.

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