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Ministry of Health devises plan to stop virus

Ministry of Health devises plan to stop virus

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The Ministry of Health has devised a thorough plan for the prevention and control of the Zika virus.

Yesterday, minister of health, wellness and the environment Luke Browne said that he has held meetings with relevant experts here and in the region on the virus and the Ministry is well positioned to deal with Zika.{{more}}

Speaking during a press briefing at the Ministry’s conference room, Browne said that on Monday, February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika Virus to be a public health emergency of international concern and this was followed on Wednesday February 3 by an address by OECS chairman Dr Keith Mitchell in which he declared February to be the month of concerted action by all stakeholders against Zika and the Aedes Aegypti mosquito which spreads it.

But Browne said that even before the declaration by the WHO and the address by the OECS Chairman, Zika and matters to do with the prevention and control of this disease were already a concern of the local Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment.

“We had already taken concrete steps to minimize the risk that this virus poses to the health security situation in this country,” said Browne.

Stating the initiatives to deal with Zika, Browne noted that as it relates to pregnant women and women who intend to become pregnant, they have put important support structures in place as Zika can have negative consequences for newborn babies.

“For instance, we have made arrangements for pre-natal counseling to be provided to expectant mothers as necessary. I have made contact with a local pediatric neurologist, Dr Mischa Duncan-Adams and an additional neurologist at the St James School of Medicine, Dr Anwarul Siddiqui, who are on standby to deal with any cases of microcephaly or GBS if these conditions are discovered,” revealed Browne who added that the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH) is able to take blood samples to send for testing at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) lab in Trinidad and Tobago.

Browne said that the virus must be attacked by a two-pronged approach in order to control it.

This approach includes reducing the population of mosquitoes through fogging, the elimination of mosquito breeding grounds and avoiding mosquito bites by using insect repellents, wearing light-coloured clothes that cover as much of the body as possible and sleeping under mosquito nets.

Fogging is an important part of the fight and is expected to cost the Ministry over EC$165,000 over the course of the next year. Browne said that the Ministry, through the Vector Control Unit has intensified fogging nationwide.

“We now carry out daily fogging whereas fogging was previously done on a need-to basis. We have employed an additional driver at the Vector Control Unit in order to be able to cover more ground quickly. Information on the fogging schedule is provided through public service announcements and news releases,” said Browne.

In addition to fogging, the Vector Control Unit is taking other appropriate measures to reduce the mosquito population, including a measure known as OVI trapping (where mosquito eggs are trapped).

Surveillance has also been heightened in terms of house-to-house inspections by the Vector Control Unit for breeding grounds and the destruction of breeding grounds while monitoring and inspecting ports of entry for signs of the disease, taking into consideration the travel history of patients when performing medical assessments, followed by immediate case investigation. Suspected cases of Zika will be reported according to the established protocol, but at this point, visitors to SVG will not be quarantined because of where they have travelled to.

Browne added also, that from very early on, the Ministry embarked on a vigorous public relations campaign centered on the Zika Virus.

“We have been spreading the word through radio programmes, for example Views and Issues, Health Word, Health Microscope, Tourism Chit-Chat and a series of interviews on a number of radio stations, social media, Facebook page, the government website and in the newspapers. We will employ additional communication strategies going forward,” said Browne.

The Ministry is also planning to take the message to the schools, churches, and the communities and Browne said he has asked the staff at the various clinics, working along with the Vector Control Unit, community leaders, civic groups and other stakeholders to carry out this assignment.

“We are also considering the use of public address systems mounted on vehicles for the general transmission of the message,” said Browne who added also that the Ministry will soon carry out a national clean-up campaign in the areas that have the highest mosquito population.

These areas include, Rose Hall, West Wood, Troumaca, Clare Valley, Colonarie, Byrea, Park Hill, Sion Hill (Roseau), Belair, Enhams, Kingstown, Campden Park, Buccament, Barrouallie and Paget Farm Bequia.

“This response would evolve into a full-scale and all-encompassing thrust towards the renewal of Primary Health Care in St Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Browne.

Addressing the Ministry’s long term plans, the Minister said that they plan to use all the tools at their disposal, including policy and legislative tools, to achieve sustainable mosquito control.

“We are considering the ways in which we can strengthen our laws and possibly institute a system of ticketing for households that are habitual mosquito breeders. The Aedes Aegypti mosquito must be stopped,” stressed Browne.

The Minister also revealed that they have set up a committee, headed by him, to supervise the response to the Zika and mosquito threat for both the short term and long term.

Browne said that while they will work hard to prevent Zika from coming to our shores, it may still show up because of international travel but, “if this happens, we will respond forcefully to minimize the threat it poses to Vincentians. I reiterate that we have already assembled a team of neurologists, including pediatric neurologists, and other specialists to deal with some of the more serious possible medical problems that may visit us in the wake of this virus. We will carry out our work with duty and devotion”.

The Zika Virus has been found in a number of countries to date including Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad, but so far there have been no reported cases in SVG.

This virus is spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the same insect which spreads Dengue Fever and Chikungunya.

Only about 20 per cent of the individuals who contract Zika experience symptoms, the remaining 80 per cent are asymptomatic. Where symptoms appear they are generally quite mild and may include a slight fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis or red eye. Typically, the symptoms do not last for more than five days and they do not lead to hospitalization. By way of comparison, the general symptoms of Zika are not nearly as severe as the symptoms of Chikungunya.

The most serious feature of this disease is the possibility of its link to debilitating birth defects (microcephaly) and less commonly a temporary condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).

The link of Zika to both of these conditions is unconfirmed. Throughout the history of this virus, the birth defects have only been seen in the recent Brazil cases. There is some evidence to suggest that there may be other factors at play.

Other persons present at the briefing included chief medical officer (CMO) Dr Simone Keizer-Beache, permanent secretary Luis deShong, epidemiologist Dr Rosmond Adams, senior environmental health officer and supervisor of the vector control unit Todd Lewis, pediatric neurologist Dr Mischa Duncan-Adams, neurologist at the St James School of Medicine, Dr Anwarul Siddiqui, chief health promotion officer Patsy Wyllie and chief laboratory technologist Claudette Williams. (LC)

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