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Citizens must help to stop the spread of deadly dengue

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

We really can't fault the approach our health authorities have taken over the past few years in Jamaica's efforts to combat mosquito-borne diseases, particularly dengue fever.

Certainly, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the regional health authorities, and professionals in the sector have been circulating advice and updates on dengue through various media.

In fact, the scale of the public education campaign has, we believe, given the vast majority of Jamaicans — certainly those who read or listen to public service broadcasts — vital information about the disease, including what we all need to do to protect ourselves.

Despite all that, unfortunately, last month we had reason to comment in this space on what appears to be a widespread indifference to appeals from the authorities to rid homes and the wider environs of mosquito-breeding sites. People continue to carelessly dispose of refuse of every description — much of which provide ideal opportunities for mosquito breeding.

Dr Christopher Tufton, the health and wellness minister, has suggested that inadequate resources for the fight is not the biggest hurdle for the current anti-mosquito campaign. We share his view. The biggest problem, we reiterate, is the attitude of our people.

Our fear is that the individuals who continue to have this cavalier attitude to public health are placing us all in danger, especially given that global health authorities have told us that about 40 per cent of humanity is at risk of contracting dengue fever.

The World Health Organization has reported that the incidence of dengue has increased 30-fold over the last 50 years. Prior to 1970, only nine countries had seen severe dengue epidemics. Now, we are told, as many as 50 million to 100 million infections are estimated to occur annually in more than 100 endemic countries; putting almost half of the world's population at risk.

Last month, Dr Tufton told Parliament that for the period January 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019 there were 135 suspected and confirmed dengue-related deaths in Jamaica. These included 47 cases in 2018 and 88 in 2019. He also reported that there were 10 suspected deaths in September.

The Pan American Health Organization has reported 2,563 698 suspected and confirmed dengue cases, including 1,082 deaths, in the Americas as at October 14 this year. And, while the highest incidence rates are reported by Nicaragua, Belize, Brazil, and Honduras, we here in Jamaica cannot rest comfortably, especially as we acknowledge scientists' prediction that the disease could affect two billion people worldwide by 2080.

Prevention and treatment, therefore, are vital to our survival. As such we encourage all Jamaicans to heed the advice of our health authorities.

At the same time, we are encouraged by research being done by The World Mosquito Project to eliminate dengue. Hopefully, their plan to inject the Aedes aegypti mosquito with a bacteria called Wolbachia which, we are told, blocks transmission of the disease to humans, will prove successful.