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Deep water problem: More divers seeking Seychelles' sea cucumbers need decompression

Victoria, Seychelles | April 12, 2017, Wednesday @ 09:38 in National » HEALTH | By: Sharon Ernesta and Betymie Bonnelame | Views: 3262
Deep water problem: More divers seeking Seychelles' sea cucumbers need decompression

The new chamber has over 1,500 sessions for treatment of mostly patients with chronic diseases. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency)

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(Seychelles News Agency) - The Seychelles’ health authority has expressed concern over the increase in the number of incidents where scuba divers need treatment in a decompression chamber.

The consultant in charge of the decompression chamber at Seychelles’ Hospital, Dr. Kenneth Henriette, told SNA that since the new hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) centre was opened in January 2015, there has been an increase in patients treated after diving incidents.

Henriette said the centre treated 17 cases last year; most cases involved divers fishing for sea cucumber.

The hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves immersing the body in 100 percent oxygen at a pressure that is greater than what a person normally experiences. This is a medical procedure done in a decompression chamber where atmospheric pressure is increased and controlled.

The new hyperbaric oxygen therapy centre, a donation from Qatar includes 7 decompression chambers. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY

Henriette told SNA that that through the care the center offers officials try to preserve human life. Unfortunately, two dive-related deaths occurred recently, and some patients end up being paralysed.

The consultant added that as much as possible immediate care is given to prevent deterioration of patients.

“But there is a misconception outside that once a patient arrives at the chamber, the person is immediately put in the chamber. This is not the case. We need to do some routine tests and monitoring,” said Henriette.

Henriette is calling on the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) to have stricter monitoring over the fishing of sea cucumbers, adding that the health authority is prepared to work with them.

Stressing the importance of giving first aid in such cases, Henriette said that this can be done with a normal diving tank and involves going back to the depth of the previous dive then resurfacing again, allowing the injured person a much better chance of recovery.

The new hyperbaric treatment centre is a donation from Qatar and includes seven decompression chambers. It replaces the old three chambers which were in operation since the late 1990s.

The centre is not only used for dive patients but also for a wide variety of treatments usually as a part of an overall medical care plan; these include delayed radiation injuries, soft tissue infections, thermal burns as well as diabetes-related wounds.

Henriette said that the chamber has over 1,500 sessions for treatment of mostly patients with chronic diseases, “with treatment here we have saved hundreds of limbs from amputation where patients with diabetes are concerned.”

The centre is not only used for dive patients but also for a wide variety of treatment. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY

Wounds need oxygen to heal properly, and exposing a wound to 100 percent oxygen can, in some cases, speed the healing process.

Not all patients however fully recover even after the treatment.

SNA spoke to a patient who did not recover fully. Mervin Bick, who is in his late thirties, has lost partial use of both his legs.

Bick was working in the sea cucumber fishing industry for the past five years and knew all the rules and regulations. He told SNA that on that day he took risks by diving more than he should have.

“I was given first aid by my colleagues, who took me back to the bottom of the sea as prescribed and the health professionals also did their best,” said Bick.

Following the incident, Bick said he had 22 treatment sessions and spent five months in the hospital. Today he is still in a wheelchair but making progress. 

“Last year I could not sit, now I can. I can also bathe and dress, stand a bit, and complete mobility is what I am focusing on,” said Bick who despite his situation is positive and optimistic.

Bick is confident that he will walk again and is having physiotherapy sessions and doing some exercises on his own. 

Mervin Bick who is in his late thirties, has lost partial use of both his legs but is confident he will walk again.(Salifa Magnan, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY

The Seychelles Fishing Authority says that there are regulations in place for the fishing of sea cucumber.

Elisa Socrate, an officer from the Fisheries Management Section, said that before giving a license to the boat owner and those involved in the actual harvesting, they are several procedures done.

Apart from their PADI diving certificate, the divers have to undergo medical test done either at the Seychelles’ Hospital or two private clinics recommended by the SFA. The activity is also closely monitored by inspectors from the authority who also take part in the diving activity.

Socrate says that there are still challenges they encounter with this type of fishing.

“We do not have enough human resources to be on each boat, the use of substances by the divers is still a dilemma which even though we try we cannot control.

Socrate added that “We do hope however that the boat owners and skippers collaborate with us to stop this malpractice which puts the divers at risk.”

The fishing of sea cucumber is a controlled activity with the season opening from October to June.

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Tags: Seychelles’ Hospital, Seychelles Fishing Authority, hyperbaric oxygen therapy centre

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