- As you know the country has been in preparation mode for the introduction of the zika virus since the outbreak was announced in Brazil last year
- Over the past few months we have seen the virus inching closer and closer to our shores.
- Zika virus is presently confirmed in nineteen (19) countries including Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname and Venezuela.
- Jamaica does business with many of these countries especially Haiti and Panama and so we expect that very soon we should see Zika in Jamaica.
- There is also legal and illegal travel to Jamaica from some of these countries.
- We have so far investigated notifications of suspected cases of zika at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad and all have tested negative.
- The population is very susceptible – (one) because the zika virus is transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito which is the same mosquito that spreads Dengue and Chikungunya. This mosquito lives with us and (two) – this is a new disease and so the population which has never gotten it before does not have any sort of immunity. It means that everyone is at risk of getting zika once it is here in Jamaica.
Some actions taken by the Ministry of Health
- The Ministry of Health has ramped up its vector control activities for the past few months
- We have increased the frequency of fogging in several high risk communities in all parishes.
- We have deployed hundreds of workers to communities to assist with identifying and destroying mosquito breeding sites and public education to householders
- We have been meeting with several groups to provide information at various fora
- Our partnership with the Ministry of Education has started with training and education of teachers, administrators and students across the island
- We have ramped up our public education and are partnering with the media to spread our messages
- We will be increasing our capacity for testing through the University of the West Indies Virology Laboratory.
- In the coming week we will meet with several other partners and stakeholders including the umbrella group of churches, the PSOJ and private medical practitioners.
- Our teams will also be present in the field to guide communities and householders in terms of destroying mosquito breeding sites and keeping their surrounding clean.
- The Ministry of Health has procured additional vector control equipment and supplies and will further increase these supplies.
- The Ministry of Health along with the private sector and NGOs will ensure that adequate supplies of pharmaceuticals are available.
High risk groups
- There is increasing information which suggests a link of zika virus infection to microcephaly which is a condition where the infant has an abnormally small head which is associated with underdevelopment of the brain. At present, the exact time during pregnancy when this may occur is not confirmed. However, microcephaly has been observed in more cases following infection of pregnant women during the first months of pregnancy. Babies who develop microcephaly in the womb may not live to full term, may be born prematurely, may be still born or may survive but with life-long disability.
- Pregnant women therefore need to be particularly vigilant as they are also among the high risk group and so are likely to experience severe symptoms if they contract the zika virus.
- The Ministry of Health has advised women to delay becoming pregnant for the next six to twelve months and those already pregnant to take extra precaution to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes given the possible link between zika virus infection and microcephaly.
- The National Family Planning Board will soon begin increased public education with respect to guiding persons as to how they can delay pregnancy and contraceptive options.
- Infants, the elderly and persons with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and cancer, sickle cell or a compromised immune system are also at greater risk for more severe symptoms and so we urge that special effort is made to protect this group.
Community mobilization, sensitization and education
- You would recall that we started a community focused programme utilizing young persons since December last year.
- Yesterday we officially launched an initiative with the Carib Cement Company which will see 100 workers deployed.
- The Ministry will train the youth workers who will undertake community interventions in the corporate area including education about the zika virus. This will bolster our efforts at the community level.
- We are calling on other companies to come on board to work together with health to minimize the impact of zika virus on the population, our country and our economy.
- The Ministry of Health cannot do it alone so we are calling on communities, church and school administrators, businesses and householders to band together and help to rid their communities of mosquito breeding sites.
- It is the task of every citizen to get rid of mosquitoes in their surroundings. You can take the following action:
- Look for anything in which water can settle and either cover it, keep the area dry, clean it regularly, fill it with soil or sand, punch holes into it, recycle or properly dispose of it.
- Avoid being bitten by mosquitoes by using insect repellent containing DEET, IR3535 or Icaridin, mosquito nets, mosquito destroyers or putting screens on windows and doors.
- Make sure that your entire family especially the children and elderly wear protective clothing such as socks, long sleeved shirts or blouses and long pants and skirts where possible.
- Do not dump garbage in drains and gullies.