Residents of region urged to protect themselves against mosquito-borne diseases despite COVID

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — The Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is urging people in the region to remember that despite the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they must be mindful that other public health threats still exist.

CARPHA executive director Dr Joy St John, in a message in observance of Caribbean Mosquito Awareness Week 2020, noted that mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika, have placed an additional burden on the region’s health care systems, and negatively impact social and economic development.

“As individuals and communities, we each have a role to play in preventing an upsurge of mosquito borne diseases,” she added.

Head of Vector Borne Diseases at CARPHA Dr Laura-Lee Boodram said that during 2019 the Caribbean region experienced another outbreak of dengue, with many member states reporting an increase in the number of severe and hospitalised cases.

“Dengue outbreaks tend to occur in cycles every few years due to a complex interplay between population, ecological and climatic factors,” she said. “While we haven’t seen a resurgence of chikungunya or Zika within member states in the last few years, countries in South and Central America did report outbreaks of chikungunya in 2019 and early 2020, therefore, the Caribbean must remain vigilant”.

Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders at their summit in 2014 declared Mosquito Awareness Week (CMAW) as an important reminder to the general public to take action to reduce their risk of diseases spread by mosquitoes.

CMAW is being observed under the theme ‘In times of COVID —Let’s Unite to Fight the Bite!’, with CARPHA said it places emphasis on taking preventative measures and remaining healthy during this time.

It said as the rainy season starts, it is expected that greater rainfall will lead to a proliferation of mosquito-breeding sites, build vector populations and increase the risk of transmission of diseases, such as dengue. To counter this increase in mosquitoes and potential disease transmission, greater effort should be placed on mosquito awareness in communities and vector control activities should be intensified.

CARPHA’s senior technical officer, vector-borne diseases, Rajesh Ragoo, recommends the best way to “fight the bite” around homes and communities is to ensure surroundings are clean and free of materials or containers that can accumulate water.

“The base of plants pots, vases, buckets and used vehicles tires are typical breeding sites. Water storage drums and tanks must be properly covered and inspected periodically to ensure that there is no breeding. It is also important to minimise individual exposure to mosquito bites.

“Vulnerable groups such as infants, young children, older adults and women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant must exercise extra caution. Personal protective measures including the wearing of long sleeved clothing and the use of insect repellents are strongly recommended,” Ragoo added.

Last year, CARPHA entered into a grant agreement with the European Union, which supports regional prevention and control efforts against mosquito-borne diseases.

It said focus will be placed on strengthening member states disease surveillance systems and vector control operations, expanding community engagement, public health education and increasing partnerships and collaborations to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with mosquito-borne diseases.

CARPHA said it has since developed “Mission Mosquito”, an innovative information toolkit, which includes animated videos, posters and answers to frequently asked questions.

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