Those of us exposed to Christian religious teaching will hardly be unfamiliar with the idiom “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. Often attributed to the Holy Bible itself, the saying is actually a coined phrase by evangelist and Methodism founder John Wesley.
Apart from the 18th century minister’s intent to show that after the worshipping of God the second most important thing was the pure preservation of self, his purpose was as well to convey the notion of simply keeping oneself neat and clean – for the Master’s sake, and man’s.
And while we might enjoy a chuckle in American political satirist and journalist P.J. O’Rourke’s declaration that cleanliness becomes more important when godliness is unlikely, we can yet draw divine inspiration from Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians – which gives some support to the Wesley mantra:
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
But it need not be fear, as much as concern or considerateness, driving us at this time to self-preservation and the health security of our neighbours, as we battle with this sudden spate of influenza-like illnesses. Over the period August 23 to September 13, there were 137 reported acute cases of dengue, compared with 94 for the same period last year. And health officials are rightly paying due and diligent attention. One death is too many.
It is this sharpness of the dengue spike and its severity that have our health leaders crying out to the public for sustained hygienic practices – of person and in environment – and especially to those people presenting respiratory or influenza-like symptoms.
Senior Medical Officer and epidemiologist Karen Springer is of the view there is much we as Barbadians can do in preventing any further spread of the dengue illnesses, and that was why the Ministry of Health, on the level and severity of cases before us, was reaching out to the society and getting confirmation tests done on samples taken from the sick among us.
Acting Minister of Health Michael Lashley yesterday acknowledged that samples had been collected so far from ten patients for further testing at the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad. We should know the results of these within the next week, according to epidemiologist Springer. We should be informed by then whether the current influenza cases of concern were the result of the feared H1N1 virus, already identified in some countries of the Caribbean.
With only one death from dengue fever in Barbados confirmed, Springer was confident Barbados was ready and able to handle whatever virus was circulating on the island – once it was identified by the Trinidadian-based health agency, and given, to boot, that seasonal influenza vaccine should reach us in another week.
The first step, of course, for us Barbadians to protect ourselves from dengue fever is to be rid of all possible mosquito breeding habitats like stagnant water in, around, and near our homes. The simple changing of water in our decorative vases, bowls and flower pot plates on alternative days will go a long way – for us and our neighbours. There, of course, is the practicality and wisdom in eradicating all empty containers and old tyres lying around.
And, as important, we must ourselves practise a high standard of personal hygiene, amidst it regular washing and cleaning of the hands. We must not by our laziness and indifference, or in ignorance, aid and abet the mission of the Aedes aegypti mosquito!