Health minister asks country to help fight virus
Dr Fenton Ferguson last night appealed to the country to help the health authorities combat the rapidly spreading Chikungunya virus and insisted that his ministry has responded adequately to the disease.
Ferguson, who is the health minister, argued his case in a national broadcast which was obviously made in reaction to mounting criticism of the Government’s handling of the virus’ introduction and spread across the country, as well as public scepticism that it is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito only.
“While the Government must lead the process, citizens have a major role to play in the reduction of the spread of this disease,” Dr Ferguson said. “It is therefore important for all of us to ensure that we are not harbouring this mosquito in our homes. Personal responsibility is going to be of utmost importance in the reduction of the spread of this disease.”
He appealed to Jamaicans to take 10 minutes each week to look around their homes, school, workplace, and church and ensure that there is no uncovered container with water that could breed mosquitoes.
“Check your flower pot saucers, your dish drain boards, your refrigerator troughs, plants, pet feeding bowls. Scrub them clean to get rid of the mosquito eggs and punch holes in tin cans,” Dr Ferguson urged.
“I implore every citizen to join us when we declare a national clean-up day. Let us take charge of our health and restore national pride.,” he said.
Ferguson has been receiving a lot of flak from the public and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party for his insistence that the number of cases of Chikungunya (also called Chik-V) in the country are not as high as is being claimed by some people.
Latest figures from the health ministry put confirmed cases at 35, even as growing numbers of people report that they are experiencing symptoms associated with the virus.
Last night, Dr Ferguson appeared to acknowledge that the number of cases could be higher than that reported by the authorities.
“The ministry notes that based on information from communities and private physicians there are a number of cases involving persons with fever, joint pain and rash in excess of what has been officially reported to us and which would not form part of the official numbers,” he said.
“We continue to investigate as we have an interest to determine all the types of viruses that are presently circulating. It is important to note that the expectation is for Chikungunya cases to spike and then trend down as persons begin to build immunity to this new disease. You can only get Chikungunya once,” he added.
He said that an emergence response plan has been be formulated to ensure that health officials can continue to give care to the population as they expect that the health workforce will also be impacted by the virus.
He reminded the nation that Dengue is also spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and is more serious than Chikungunya, as the death rate is much higher.
Said Dr Ferguson: “Deaths from Chikungunya are very rare and usually occur in persons with other illnesses, especially chronic illnesses.
“The death rate from Chikungunya is less than one per cent compared to Dengue, which is one to five per cent and Influenza, which kills millions each year. In 2012, we had a total of 5,929 suspected Dengue cases and in 2013 we had 925 cases.”
He issued an appeal to people in the high-risk group, including pregnant women, infants, children under five years old, as well as individuals with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, to seek medical care immediately if they experience symptoms that could be Chikungunya.
“For us to control the spread of Dengue and Chikungunya, the Ministry of Health cannot work alone. It needs a comprehensive and integrated response with all of us playing our part,” the health minister said.
“That is why I am meeting with stakeholders to establish how we can continue to work together going forward.
“One such meeting was held on Thursday, September 25, 2014 and involved mayors, local government, transport and works, tourism and the water, land, environment and climate change ministries, the National Solid Waste Management Authority, the National Water Commission and others as we put plans in place for a national clean-up effort,” he added.
He expressed sympathies to people who have been ill and wished them a quick and full recovery.