– Berbice Health Authority
Although the Chikungunya virus is one that is recognised as a daunting public health threat, Guyana’s reaction to
tackling the mosquito-borne virus has been lauded by international partners. In fact, unofficial word from a representative from an international partner is that “the best thing that could have happened for Guyana was for the Chikungunya virus to have arrived in Berbice.”
This disclosure has been premised on the fact that Berbice from the inception of the outbreak in May has been unrelentingly combating the virus. Although it has since spread to a number of sections of the country including Regions Three, Four and Five, the first cases were detected in sections of East Berbice, Region Six. Reports out of the Ministry of Health suggest that the confirmed cases of the virus currently amount to 31.
But although the virus has somewhat stabilised in Berbice, Chief Executive Officer, Dr Vishwa Mahadeo, during an interview with this publication, informed that efforts by the Berbice Regional Health Authority to keep the virus under control are certainly not subsiding.
Dr Mahadeo is among the few medical practitioners in the country who have been specifically trained to address the Chikungunya virus.
According to him, Berbice currently has one regional hospital, three district hospitals, 26 health centres and health posts, all of which are continuously on alert for symptoms of the virus. Among the symptoms associated with the Chikungunya virus, which is transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, are: headache, rash, malaise complemented by high fevers, muscle and joint pains.
TACKLING THE VIRUS
A mosquito nuisance in Berbice had raised suspicions among health care workers that the Region had been infiltrated by Chikungunya virus-carrying mosquitoes. And when those suspicions were validated by laboratory tests of samples at the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad, Dr Mahadeo disclosed that “we literally fogged the whole of Berbice.”
But since the local health sector had never experience a Chikungunya outbreak before, a team from the Ministry of Health’s Vector Control Services, led by Dr Reyaud Rahman, travelled to the County upon learning of the confirmed cases. There they trained Berbice health workers to undertake continuous fogging activities. And ever since that training “we set up our own teams and from then to now our people have been in the fields and they have been working very hard every morning and every afternoon…they are in the fields fogging,” said Dr Mahadeo.
As part of the efforts too, moves were made to set up what Dr Mahadeo described as a “war room” through which information about the progression of the virus was constantly filtered. “We knew exactly which team was where, we knew exactly what the constraints they had were; these people went out and although it was raining at times they did what they had to do through rain and mud,”Dr Mahadeo said.
And according to him, mosquitoes in the open environment were sprayed with an insecticide, Malathion, which is deadly to insects that are in flying motion.
In addition to normal environmental fogging, workers also undertook internal residual spraying with an insecticide called Fendona, in domiciles, to target mosquitoes there. The potency of this insecticide is believed to last as much as three months.
“We sprayed walls, the roof, the floor, everything… so when the mosquitoes go and rest there the Fendona, which has a noticeable odour, either causes them to die instantly or within a couple of minutes,” the CEO said.
He disclosed, though, that while most residents permitted their homes to be sprayed, there were some who were not willing to comply, despite being advised that the insecticide’s odour would subside within three hours.
“Some people still did not want it and we don’t force people,” said Dr Mahadeo.
Turning his attention to reports that the mosquito could have migrated from Berbice to other locations of the country, Dr Mahadeo noted that this belief is not quite practical. He explained that “the fact of the matter is that the mosquito does not travel far…even if there is good wind, the maximum that they will travel is about a kilometre, so the mosquito will not be able to migrate.”
According to him, this species of mosquito is deemed a domestic type and therefore it lives around human habitation.
“This is not the mosquito you would find in swamps, this is not a mosquito that is going to breed in drains and places where there are fishes and stuff like that…This would be the mosquito you find in and around the house and in the yard,” Dr Mahadeo asserted.
And once this mosquito targets a victim and moves on to another point it becomes tired and must rest, he informed.
Since the outbreak of the virus, Dr Mahadeo noted that keen efforts were made to raise awareness among the residents. As part of this endeavour, he disclosed that moves were made to enlighten the public of ways to keep protecting themselves from the virus. These messages, according to Dr Mahadeo, were taken to homes, public places and were even disseminated on street corners.
Residents, he said, were encouraged to rid their environments of old tyres, bottles and other containers that can hold water, thereby allowing for the breeding of the virus-carrying mosquito. The mosquito in such environments, he noted, has the potential of reproducing within 10 to 12 years.
“I personally had meetings with all the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, Town Council staff; we invited religious leaders to come, we had lectures with people in Rose Hall, New Amsterdam, Port Mourant and Skeldon; we were in Canje, Whim, Alness and up the East Bank…basically in all the areas, including Orealla and Siparuta. Those meetings were very well attended, even as we continued our daily monitoring of the hospitals and primary health care institution,” Dr Mahadeo disclosed.
But according to the CEO, Government, together with the Health Ministry and the Regional Health Authority – which among other things has been ensuring that needful treatment is available – cannot alone tackle the challenge of the Chikungunya virus.
“The fact of the matter is that Chikungunya is here and it is not going to go away easily…We have the conditions and people need to do the things to help combat this virus…We can only do about 10 to 25 per cent of the work, most of it has to be done by the communities themselves,” Dr Mahadeo said.
While tackling the virus has been a collaborative effort, Dr Mahadeo said that there is no denying that the staff of the Berbice Regional Health Authority must be commended for their ongoing work.
“These people came out at two and three in the mornings just to prepare their fogging machines and went home at 12 in the night…I think they deserve some kudos,”the CEO insisted.
He noted that while persons in the various communities may still have some concerns about the virus, they should seek answers from the various health facilities.
“I would invite anybody who would like to have a discussion and who would like to be a part of this fight against this virus to contact us,” said Dr Mahadeo, who disclosed that the health sector would accept support even in its efforts to tackle Chronic Non-Communicable diseases. “I would also like him to tell people they have to be responsible and join in the fight rather than just lay back and complain,” Dr Mahadeo added.
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