Dengue Lunacy

Residents stone, chase away vector control workers

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

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Dozens of vector control workers who are on the frontlines in the gruelling fight to stem the spread of dengue across the island are themselves grappling with hostile responses from residents who have resorted to stoning them, in some instances, and refusing them access to their properties to carry out assessment and treatment.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, disclosed that vector control workers have been denied access to up to 40 per cent of homes they have visited.

“I am told by the head of the unit that deals with vector management at the ministry that they have gotten consistent complaints from the workers in the field that there are many homes that deny them access when they turn up with their identification cards and their uniforms. They are turned away by people saying they don't want them in their yards,” the health minister said.

According to Dr Tufton,“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 Observer.

The health minister said he was worried by the reports and moreso, given indications by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) that the region is experiencing a pandemic.

“Ideally, I am told, you really want 80 per cent access minimum 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.

The minister, who said he preferred not to name communities, pointed out that there “are many areas” where residents “have been driving the workers away”.

“Those citizens know who they are. I have been in sections of Portmore, for example, where foggers have told me that they have been driven out of some of these communities; that's not a widescale criticism of that area, but I know for a fact and I have been in other areas [where this has occurred],” he added.

Dr Tufton said the situation also existed in “some of the more affluent areas”, albeit somewhat differently.

“It's difficult to get access to some of these premises because persons are just not available and in some instances they say they don't want the persons in their yards because they are not sure if the workers are authentic, even though they have IDs. It's a concern,” he noted.

The health and wellness minister is, in the meantime, petitioning the public to grant access to vector control workers for inspection and treatment of breeding sites “to tackle the prevention approach in a meaningful way and minimise the need for curative measures such as hospitalisation, medication and treatment”.

“The appeal to the public is to recognise that once these workers have their identification and make the requests, that we give them access and let them explain why they are there, accompany them wherever they go if you are uncertain as to their motives, but give them the access so that they can help to protect yourself and family and your immediate surroundings,” he said.

Addressing a report from Opposition spokesman on health, Dr Morais Guy, in Parliament last week that a number of individuals contracted to carry out vector control activities “have not been going to work”, Dr Tufton said that based on reports yesterday from unit heads and vector control managers across the country it is “not a widespread practice”.

“I think, for the most part, they are out there, except that I would say we need to tighten up the supervisory management in some of the areas because I do think we could be a little more effective in terms of supervision,” Dr Tufton said, noting that the challenge was that there are 200 permanent staff and 1,000 temporary staff.

“So what we have had to do is use the permanent staff, and some of those are specialised people persons who do fogging. The permanent staff has to now provide supervision for the temporary staff and it has gaps in certain areas, but for the most part they are out there. We can improve on that, and we had discussions to work on that,” he said, noting that the issue cannot be downplayed.

As of last week, health officials said confirmed dengue deaths stood at 27 so far in 2019, up from 17 in 2018. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease transmitted by the bite of an infected female Aedes aegypti mosquito. Symptoms typically begin three to 14 days after infection and may include a high fever, headache, vomiting or nausea, bone, muscle or joint pains, and a skin rash. Symptoms usually last two to seven days. There are four dengue viruses Dengue types 1, 2, 3, and 4.


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