Public education key to dealing with dengue

Believe it or not, experts say mosquitoes do play positive roles in nature.

The pesky insect is said to be an important pollinator for plants in some parts of the world. And, at the lower end of the food chain, they are a source of nutrients for larger insects, birds, and so forth.

However, for most people the mosquito, especially the Aedes Aegypti which spreads deadly diseases including dengue — currently said to be on the rise in Jamaica — is feared and hated.

Hence, news that years of scientific work to eliminate the Aedes Aegypti using biological means may well be bearing fruit is music to the ears.

Dengue, which rushed like wildfire through the then unexposed 'virgin' Jamaican population in 1977, causing severe illness for many and some deaths, has plagued us from time to time down the years. The most recent serious outbreak came in 2019.

Jamaicans will also recall that over the last decade there have been outbreaks of chikungunya and Zika viruses, also spread by the Aedes Aegypti.

Thankfully, other serious mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria and yellow fever, were eradicated as endemic threats here, decades ago.

Now we are hearing from Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton that, as of September 11, there were 316 suspected, presumed and confirmed cases of dengue — an almost fivefold increase when compared to the corresponding period in 2022 which had 65 cases.

The health ministry says that, while all parishes have had cases of dengue reported, confirmed cases were detected in Kingston and St Andrew, St Thomas, St Catherine, Westmoreland, Portland, and St Ann.

Dr Tufton is reported as saying $200 million has been allocated for the removal of bulky waste and drain-cleaning. The minister says inspections have begun in schools and some 500 temporary vector control workers have been engaged and deployed to so-called high-risk communities.

The number of vector control workers will be increased if the need arises and 60 vehicles are available to facilitate fogging, the minister has also said.

Of course, there is also that matter of personal responsibility. Hence the call by Dr Tufton for Jamaicans to search for and destroy mosquito-breeding sites in and around their homes where the Aedes Aegypti typically live.

Unfortunately, careless disposal of containers of all sorts often provide opportunities for the breeding of mosquitoes. Public education by all available means aimed at getting people to desist from such behaviour needs to be ongoing.

A big challenge is how best to deal with rain water catchment and storage, often in large drums in and around the home. That's very important since a large percentage of our population is still without reliable piped water supplies — if at all.

It shouldn't be assumed that people know drums and the like should be safely covered in order to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes. So, again, the Ministry of Health and related government agencies must fall back on creative, ongoing public education to get the message across.

Lively, catchy ditties such as that of a few years ago which urged Jamaicans to "Bun mosquito and run weh dengue" are actually well worth their weight in gold.

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