What's behind vector control workers being chased away?

Friday, October 18, 2019

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A normal first reaction to our report on Tuesday of this week that vector control workers are being stoned and chased away by some residents in a few communities would, understandably, be to scold the individuals who engaged in those actions.

Indeed, we could forgive anyone who would even describe their behaviour as stupid.

However, we suspect that what is at play in some of those cases is a genuine fear of trusting strangers, given the crime problem we are having in this country.

For we have seen cases in the past in which thieves pretend to be employees of utility companies in an effort to gain entry into people's homes.

While that is not a frequent occurrence, the fact is that it has bred suspicion.

It will take a long time to repair that trust deficit and that is an issue we hope will be contemplated in the anti-crime talks by the country's leaders which began yesterday.

However, until then, we cannot but empathise with the authorities who are working to combat mosquito-borne diseases in the country.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton revealed that vector control workers have been denied access to up to 40 per cent of homes they have visited, even though they turn up with their identification cards and in uniform.

“They are turned away by people saying they don't want them in their yards,” Dr Tufton said, adding “in some instances people have been outright aggressive.”

“I have had cases where persons have been stoned because citizens, for whatever reasons, either don't want them to fog or just don't want them in their particular quarters,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

While, as we said, we can understand the feeling of mistrust, we can't fathom the descent into violent action. That speaks to a level of ignorance that is worrying.

We share the health minister's concerns, especially in light of indications from the Pan American Health Organization that the region is experiencing a pandemic.

“Ideally, I am told, you really want a minimum access of 80 per cent to make meaningful impact. We are closer to 60 per cent. I am told we need to do about 135,000 visitations per month, and we are [at] about 60 per cent, largely because of the refusal to allow workers to access premises,” Dr Tufton pointed out.

That is not encouraging news when one considers that as of last week, health officials told us that the number of confirmed dengue deaths stood at 27 so far in 2019, up from 17 in 2018.

We join Minister Tufton in his appeal to residents to give the vector workers access to their properties, but ensure that in so doing homeowners utilise the strictest caution.

As Dr Tufton pointed out, we should make sure that anyone presenting themselves as vector workers show proof of such. At the same time, the Health and Wellness Ministry should consider establishing a help line that doubtful householders could call to verify the presence of vector workers in their communities.

A proper public education programme, even if limited to those communities where the problem is extreme, is always a great way to start.

That may require some amount of resources, but any measure that can help put the public at ease and contribute to limiting the spread of diseases would be worth the effort.


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