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Zika virus public health emergency

...as T&T placed on alert for mosquito borne disease
Published: 
Saturday, January 30, 2016

T&T has been placed on a heightened alert for the Zika virus as Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has declared it a national public health emergency.

And to combat the virus spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito, soldiers, part of a rapid response unit established by the health ministry, would assist in disseminating information and fogging the country by going door-to-door, as in the case of Brazil.

The minister made the announcement at a press briefing held at the ministry’s office at Park Street in Port-of-Spain yesterday.

Saying that he had the support of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Deyalsingh said the World Health Organisation (WHO) was currently in the process of deciding whether to call Zika an international public health emergency problem.

“This unit has been set up in conjunction with the ministry of local government, the ministry of national security and all other State agencies that have a stake in environmental concerns.

“The ministry of national security will be providing logistical support on the ground in terms of vehicles and in terms of people to assist the vector control department and in putting boots on the ground to knock door-to-door, to assist in fogging and spraying.

“But basically the main responsibility for members of the Defence Force would be to disseminate information,” Deyalsingh said. 

He said a trial run of such an exercise was expected to take place next week in Bagatelle, Diego Martin where the first case of chikungunya was suspected.

In a bid to finalise the unit, Deyalsingh said, he would also be meeting with chairmen of all 14 regional government corporations and mayors.

And the ministry would also be ramping up its fogging operations throughout T&T.

“The enemies we are fighting is one which hides and one which is ubiquitous throughout our environment,” Deyalsingh said.

He also urged the public to do its part in keeping their surrounding clean and reduce source reduction of mosquitoes and eggs.

“All 41 MPs should also get on board with their constituencies. I will be reverting to an old election tactic of ‘miking’ (using a microphone to announce information) in my area. I am also calling on all MPs to drive the message down to the grass roots level.

“The distribution of material and ‘miking’ is going to be a very important communication tool as we combat this clear and present danger to the health of T&T,” Deyalsingh added.

Another strategy to get the message across, the minister said, was via community meetings.

The ministry would also be clamping down on the owners of empty lots to ensure their properties are well maintained.

On the issue of Carnival and Zika, Deyalsingh said all major venues would be sprayed which has already begun.

Regarding the screening at ports of entry however, Deyalsingh said that this is simply not practical.

Regarding the deadly H1N1, he said the number has moved from 68 to 72.

Within the next three week some 50,000 more vaccines were expected to arrive within the country.

The baby birth defect

On the issue of Zika and microcephaly (condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected) Deyalsingh again urged all families, pregnant women or those thinking of having a baby to avoid travelling to countries where Zika has been detected.

“Although no clinical link has been proven between Zika and microcephaly I am working under the assumption that there is a link because I do not want to come before the media three months from now if and when a link is proven to then tell pregnant women to be careful.

“Let us assume for the time being for the safety of your offspring that this link has in fact been proven because having a baby with microcephaly is a life time commitment in caring for that child and it is a burden I do not wish any mother or parent,” Deyalsingh said.

He also advised people to use common sense approaches including sleeping below a net, cover one’s self during the day as the aedes aegypti mosquito was more active during the day than in the night.

“There is the misconception that we need to protect ourselves during the night but the aedes aegypti mosquito lives in your bedrooms...vases ,” Deyalsingh added.

Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi, Caribbean Program Coordinator of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) who also spoke said the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Federation Park, Port-of-Spain has the facilities for testing for the virus and results would take some three days.

But because Zika, like Dengue and Chikungunya is spread by the the aedes aegypti mosquito Theodore-Gandi said during testing for Zika, it would also entail testing for the two other viruses.

The announcement made by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh that government had declared the Zika virus a national public health emergency has come under criticism.

In a statement issued yesterday by former health minister Dr Fuad Khan said such a measure would only create panic in the country rather than face the problem head on.

“Not only have there been no reports of any confirmed Zika cases in our nation at this time, but the Minister seems adamant on putting measures in place for containment and treatment of the disease, rather than attempt to protect the citizens from its transmission, “ Khan said.”

Vector Control Operations September to December 2015

County Total number of hotspot houses

St George Central 22,459

St George East 11,850

St George West 7,646

Victoria West 3,065

Caroni 3,442

Victoria East 2,823

Total 51,285