ZIKV appeal Regional health agency urges Caribbean not to downplay importance of dealing with virus

News post January 26, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – A graduate student works on analysing samples to identify the Zika virus in a laboratory at the Fiocruz institute in Rio de Janeiro, on Friday, January 22, 2016. Health officials say they’re trying to determine if an unusual jump in cases of a rare nerve condition sometimes severe enough to cause paralysis is related to the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in at least two Latin American countries.

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) – The Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) yesterday urged regional countries not to downplay the importance of dealing with the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

“We should always have a proper balance and avoid political polarising positions on health matters,” said ethicist Dr Derek Aarons. “Our Caribbean countries have an obligation to reduce the risk of ill health that people might impose on each other.”

Dr Aarons was among senior CARPHA officials, including its Executive Director Dr James Hosepdales, who met with regional journalists to discuss the virus that was first detected in the Caribbean in 2015 and has since spread to several Caribbean countries, including Barbados, Haiti, Suriname and Guyana.

“While the disease is considered to be mild, recent occurrences suggest a possible link between Zika infection in pregnant women and birth defects. This has caused great concern among health professionals and the general public,” CARPHA said.

Dr Hospedales dismissed the idea of Caribbean countries establishing screening tests at airports, noting that in most cases people with the virus do not show any symptoms when they travel.But he said it was important for the region to intensify its public education programmes on the disease and the need to isolate those who have contracted the virus “so as to greatly reduce the spread”.

Dr Aarons told regional journalists that it was necessary for there to be no confusion or misunderstanding regarding the information to the public about the virus, and that “all relevant authorities should not downplay the risks as this would lead to higher rates of possible infections”.

“Neither should we overstate the risks as we would not want any panic or any lack of public trust occurring subsequently, as this could be long lasting,” he added.

Over the last weekend, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued a statement indicating that it anticipates that the Zika virus would spread and would most likely reach all countries in the Caribbean where the Aedes aegypti mosquito is found.

CARPHA senior technical officer in charge of vector-borne and neglected tropical disease, Dr Karen Polson Edwards, said that it was also important for health institutions to do much to ensure that the disease does not spread.

“Where the public health facilities are concerned, we are issuing a challenge to the public health facilities, the hospitals and the clinics to keep the premises free of mosquito breeding, because this is where people congregate when they are ill to get medical attention and so we would not want the disease to amplify…”

She said in relation to the pregnancy issue, “what we stress is the same prevention and control measures for pregnant women as for everyone else, and it is for pregnant women to try and avoid getting bitten by the mosquito”.

She said in the event they become ill, they should seek medical attention immediately.

Meanwhile, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) say they are working “diligently to mitigate the effects of the Zika virus” ,also known as ZIKV.

They said they are in close contact with the CARPHA “to monitor and research the Zika cases that have now surfaced in some Caribbean destinations, and to communicate prevention and control measures to residents and visitors”.

“The CTO and CHTA are in communication with their respective stakeholders and are observing national, regional and international health protocols in dealing with mosquito-borne viral diseases, which can be found in tropical countries.

“With more than 700 islands in 30 territories in the Caribbean, conditions will vary from one nation to another. CTO and CHTA will continue to monitor all developments related to mosquito-borne viral diseases and to support appropriate communication, education and prevention initiatives,” the two tourism bodies said in a statement

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