A regional health official today warned of a possible rise in the number of Zika cases once the rainy season begins in June.
And chairman of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Zika Task Force Professor Clive Landis said when it does Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours must not be caught unawares.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting enlisting the support of religious organizations in the fight against the mosquito-borne disease, Landis acknowledged that there was a current lull in infections but no let up in efforts to ensure that countries were in a state of readiness.
“Currently it is spreading in the Caribbean at the lower level . . . but then it is extremely dry right now. So since we are at the faith-based session today, God is doing the job for us, but at some point he is going to listen to the other constituents – maybe the farmers who are crying out for rain – and rains will come and when they do we expect the spread of Zika to pick up. And we wish to be ready with our monitoring and surveillance that we can pick up whether there is an increase in these health concerns that we are worried about,” Landis, deputy principal of the UWI Cave Hill Campus, said.
The more than four-hour session held at the Christ Church office of the Pan American Health Organization focused on how faith-based groups could motivate their members to tackle the disease at the community level.
In this regard he championed the creation of Zero Zika Zones as an effective approach to mobilizing communities to get a handle on the breeding of the pest, which also transmit the dengue and chikungungya viruses.
“The Zero Zika Zone maps out where your mosquitos are likely to come from and engage your neighbours if you have neighbours within that zone and understand that you keep hunting until you find the mosquito breeding sites whether it is water containers, whether it is in plant pots, whether is it above ground – roof guttering are classic cases where mosquitos like to breed. Look above ground and below ground.
“The whole point of the Zika Zero Zone is that the mosquito is not coming from somewhere you can’t control it. It is not up to anyone else to get rid of it. You can get rid of it,” he said.
Pointing to a recent analysis conducted by the World Health Organization that concluded that current eradication techniques which rely on governments and municipalities are insufficient, he stressed the onus was on neighbourhoods to create the zones.
Landis also revealed that the task force had been engaging regional Chief Medical Officers on prevention efforts and plans were underway to target schools to help in the fight.
“We have made approaches to bring Aedes [Aegypti] prevention methods into the school system because we really believe that children, when they understand their school curriculum and how to participate in controlling these mosquitos and these diseases, that will be a real breakthrough.”
Another key initiative was the strengthening of laboratory capacity for Zika testing. Currently, the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the only laboratory responsible for handling samples from the region, has limited its testing.
“With their permission, the UWI laboratories in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica are going to be feeding like satellites into the CARPHA surveillance system so that we can track his virus in the region, “ Landis said.
The UWI taskforce has also submitted requests to European and United States grant agencies for funding in a bid to build capacity to monitor the birth defects and adult neurological syndromes that have been associated with Zika. (SD)