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Lack of funding could reverse dengue gains — WRHA

Observer West writer

Thursday, November 07, 2019

IRONSHORE, St James — Acting regional vector control officer at the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), Ryan Morris, has expressed fear that a lack of funding could result in the reversal of gains made in the fight against dengue.

Since January, the island has seen an outbreak of the virus, which has resulted in additional funds being spent on vector control programmes.

This had resulted in the addition of 255 temporary workers to complement the 45 permanent workers across the western region.

However, funding for the programme will come to an end in December, which has resulted in heightened fears that the seven per cent reduction between July and November 1, when compared to the first six months of the year, could be reversed.

“To be specific, we have seen a seven per cent [decline] in our Aedes index in the western region from as much as 18 per cent down to eleven. So, we are very grateful for that,” stated Morris.

“We want to maintain those gains, but if come the end of December we should lose those [temporary] workers on the ground, we are very fearful that having gone back to as little as 45 workers for the entire western Jamaica, we wouldn't be able to maintain those gains that we would have achieved.”

Morris was speaking with the Jamaica Observer West last Friday during the St James Public Health Services Vector Control Symposium held at the RIU Montego Bay in St James.

He pointed out that his fear is due mainly to an experience earlier this year.

A vector control programme was implemented between January and March, but was halted in June because of a lack of funds.

Morris said that had resulted in a spike in suspected dengue cases in July. A programme was later implemented from July to September and extended to December.

To compound matters, the efforts of vector control workers have been made a bit difficult with the addition of a newly discovered disease-carrying vessel.

In 2014, the Ministry of Health and Wellness suspected the presence of a new species of mosquito, but it wasn't until 2016 that the presence of Aedes albopictus, also known as Asian tiger mosquito, or forest mosquito, was confirmed.

Similar to the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is endemic to Jamaica, the Aedes albopictus mosquito which is native to the tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia, transmits dengue, Chikungunya, Zika and other viruses.

“Our probability of transmission has increased. Hence our efforts of control need also to be increased,” Morris stressed.

“This new vector that we speak of tends to prefer the more vegetated area. So, you are not only concerned about the domesticated one which circles in and around the home. So, we then now have to think a little more about personal protection. So, bushing of overgrown area, lands that have been left unoccupied and are becoming a forest place, those now pose a threat for the vector which is transmitting some of the most deadly illnesses,” the acting regional vector control officer explained.

Meanwhile, Executive Director of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), Dr Carey Wallace, has sought to allay fears that the lack of funds could result in a reversal of gains made.

Since 2014, the TEF has been supporting the efforts of the ministry of health and wellness to address the mosquito issue that could have an adverse effect on both locals and visitors to the island.

To date, over $500,000 has been invested by TEF in the ministry's vector control programme of which $160 million has been spent between March 2018 and September of this year.

Dr Wallace said while the TEF will be guided by the health and wellness ministry's programmes and its effectiveness, TEF stands ready to collaborate with the ministry to ensure a safe and secure Jamaica for locals and visitors alike.

“The Government of Jamaica is here to ensure the seamless and proper development of Jamaica. We in tourism, we have a mandate to enhance Jamaica's tourism and the ministry of health would have their budget. They would have their mandate as well. As much as we can collaborate together to get that result, which is a Jamaica that we can all be happy with and secure in and be proud of, then we will have that collaboration,” stated Dr Wallace.

“We will never allow Jamaica to fall in that position of having a crisis situation. So, rest assured that we are here to level that support to prevent that risk,” added Dr Wallace.

The TEF boss also pointed to the importance of citizens doing its part through simple changes in behavioural habits that could assist in solving the dengue problem.

Meanwhile, the St James Municipal Corporation, which had donated three fogging machines earlier this year to the St James Health Department, has promised to continue giving support to the vector control programme.

The Jamaica Tourist Board had also pointed to the importance of partnering with the St James Health Department in the fight against dengue.