In response to the growing threat of the Zika virus to the Caribbean, the University of the West Indies (UWI) has launched a Zika task force to coordinate its efforts with regional governments and health ministries.
Deputy Principal at the Cave Hill Campus Professor Clive Landis will chair the regional task force, comprising eminent scholars, scientists and public health experts.
It will help inform an aggressive and scientifically-based prevention strategy to eliminate breeding sites for Aedes aegypti and will work closely with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and ministries to pool resources to research and analyze the Zika outbreak and associated health complications in the Caribbean, a release from UWI states. The task force will also conduct economic impact studies and engage with ministries on outbreak preparedness.
The release states that a regional observatory will collate, organize and disseminate information about the virus and will make the university’s expertise accessible to researchers, government agencies, schools, health facilities and members of the general public.
The UWI task force will also convene a major symposium within the next three to four weeks involving regional ministries of health, donor agencies, national and regional public health agencies and tourism stakeholders.
It will also develop and implement a comprehensive communications strategy for ensuring that information about the virus and its effects is shared broadly with the Caribbean public via radio, television, newspapers, the web and social media platforms, UWI says.
“The rapid spread of the Zika virus poses serious regional challenges at the levels of public health and safety and sustainable economic development, and as a regional university we have a duty and a responsibility to confront these challenges head on,” said UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles in making the announcement.
Sir Hilary noted that the university was in a good position to work with international donor agencies in order to access resources to facilitate and implement its strategy, and to collaborate with universities and research teams across the hemisphere.
“The task force stands ready to throw its full weight and technical capabilities into the fight against Zika and we look forward to serving the governments, agencies and peoples of the Caribbean in combating this public health emergency,” said Professor Landis.
“We have been here before with malaria that we successfully eliminated from the Caribbean region and we can do it again even if this mosquito species presents some extra challenges by breeding in the smallest water reservoirs in and around our homes.”
The World Health Organization recently announced microcephaly, suspected to be linked to the spread of the Zika virus in Brazil, to be a public health emergency of international concern that requires the joint efforts of all countries to effectively tackle the problem.
Barbados has confirmed seven cases of Zika, including three pregnant women
Ministers of Health from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have agreed on a harmonized approach to confronting the fast-spreading virus which to date has affected more than 30 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The OECS effort includes monitoring and surveillance, eradication and protection, care and case management, and public education campaigns. Several member states have already started implementing the measures and the OECS Council of Ministers will oversee the harmonization effort.