Health officials on St. Maarten are investigating why more than 40 students and staff participating in the Leeward Islands Debating Competition fell ill on Friday, February 26, 2016.
According to St. Maarten newspaper The Daily Herald, “Close to 50 students taking part in the Leeward Islands Debating Competition took ill during the debate at Sonesta Maho Beach Hotel and Casino on Friday evening. Close to 9:00pm, while the competition was ongoing, several students started vomiting and experienced stomach pain.”
Saturday President of Parliament, Hon. Sarah Wescott-Williams has requested that the Minister of Health “urgently inform the Parliament of the initial findings by letter” and then keep the Members informed of the developments and ongoing investigations.
The President of Parliament expressed her sincerest regrets and wished all those affected a speedy recovery.
Initial reports said the illness had been cause by food poisoning. However, according to Dr. Sonia Swanston-Meade who is based on St. Maarten, it is caused by a virus.
Member of the Montserrat debate team Dwaynifa Joseph said via Facebook Saturday that “For those wondering we’re doing fine. So far only two staff sponsors and a student contracted the virus, but thanks to Dr. Meade (a Montserratian living in St. Maarten, who immediately gave us care upon hearing) they’re all doing much better this morning!
“I must note however, that the virus wasn’t passed through the food. The virus is only transmitted if someone doesn’t sanitise after using the bathroom. The doctor advised us to sanitise our hands regularly and not to use the palms of our hands to touch anything. We’re just hoping that no one else takes ill.”
On Friday night the ambulance was called to transfer some of the students, but due to the number of students seeking medical attention, the ambulance advised the students to find their way to St. Maarten Medical Center as soon as possible. Some students were held overnight for observation and some were sent back to the hotel to recover. The Emergency Room was packed full of students and at one point some students had to wait outside while in pain.
Students were still experiencing illness on Saturday night at the debate. Other guests of the hotel also complained of illness to members of the debate team.
The Montserrat team were eliminated in the first debate on Thursday evening in a one-point loss against Antigua.