The Epidemiological Surveillance Unit of the Ministry of Health is on the front line of the Coronavirus outbreak in Cyprus fighting a daily battle away from the spotlight to locate Covid-19 incidents and trace their contacts in order to contain the spread of the virus among the community.
In a feature published on Sunday, Phileleftheros delves into the operations of the team, who face a race against time with every new update of a confirmed case to trace the person’s routes and contacts in their workplace and among their family and social encounters.
The team is spearheaded by Dr Elisavet Constantinou, and its operations are further boosted by five doctors and five Health Ministry officials.
Constantinou said that the team is also supported by volunteers, mostly students from Cyprus’ universities, who devote a lot of their time to support the Unit’s efforts.
“Most of the volunteers staff the 1412 call centre that provides information to citizens on Covid-19 from from 8 in the morning till 8 at night,” she said, adding that there are also volunteers from teachers’ union Poed and from other public authorities.
The Health Ministry’s Unit for Surveillance and Control of Infectious Diseases was launched in 2003, around the same time the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) was established to monitor infectious illnesses in Europe.
Its aim is to monitor, record and analyse data to prevent and contain infectious diseases in the Republic and to provide statistical data to competent authorities of EU member states to control, prevent and contain infectious diseases on EU soil, and by extension in Cyprus.
The Unit is also responsible for the supervision and coordination of clinical labs, the timely identification of new and emerging infectious diseases in the country and the rapid response to such outbreaks.
Under normal circumstances, the Unit is tasked with evaluating and strengthening vaccine programmes by collecting data to estimate vaccine coverage in population segments.
Following the implementation of Gesy, the Unit has been responsible for collecting data from the Health Insurance Organisation (OAY) and feeding it into its databases.
It collaborates with international organisations like the WHO and ECDC to manage old and new infectious diseases, especially ones that entail the risk of overspill into other countries.
It is also responsible for public health issues of international interest based on the International Health Regulations (IHR) at the Republic’s entry points. In particular, the Unit is in charge of safeguarding public health at ports and airports by preventing entry to and contamination of the island by infectious diseases and zoonotic diseases, and is also responsible for the safety of imported food.
THE AMBULANCE SERVICE
The Ambulance Service of Okypy headed by Riana Constantinou is of vital importance to the handling of the outbreak as it manages the pre-hospitalisation phase of Covid incidents.
The Service staffs the 1420 helpline which is the first point of contact for suspect cases together with Personal Doctors.
From March 7 until today, 1420 handled and evaluated by telephone more than 9,000 suspect incidents of Covid-19.
It has also responded with ambulances with expert crews to more than 800 sample-taking requests at home for patients with mobility issues and other problems.
In the initial stages of the outbreak, the ambulance service, other than transferring patients to and from hospitals, also performed sample taking for Covid testing processed by the Institute of Neurology and Genetics for the Epidemiological Surveillance Unit.
THE GOVERNMENT EXPERTS
The government’s decisions on Covid-19 measures are largely informed by an expert scientific committee put together by Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou, which comprises two officials from the Health Ministry’s Epidemiological Surveillance Unit (head of the unit Dr Elisavet Constantinou and infectious disease specialist Dr Constantinos Constantinou), together with a team of independent scientists that include Dr Leontios Kostrikis, Molecular Virology professor at the University of Cyprus who delivers the daily televised new Covid cases in Cyprus.
Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou thanked on Sunday via Twitter the Epidemiological Surveillance Unit and his scientific experts committee for their contributions:
“Professionalism, expertise and countless hours of work under adverse conditions. The members of the Health Ministry’s Epidemiological Surveillance Unit have outdone themselves and make us proud. The services of the scientific committee members are invaluable. We thank them all.”
Επαγγελματισμός επιστημοσύνη κ αμέτρητες ώρες εργασίας υπό αντίξοες συνθήκες. Τα στελέχη τ Μονάδας Επιδημ. Επιτήρησης τ @MinHealthCY ξεπερνούν εαυτόν κ μας κάνουν περήφανους. Πολύτιμες οι υπηρεσίες τ μελών τ συμβ. επιστ. επιτροπής. Τους ευχαριστούμε όλους. https://t.co/xXqWs4Fwm5 pic.twitter.com/AA4G9U1Dwz
— Constantinos Ioannou (@K_Ioannou) April 12, 2020