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The capacity of the Ministry of Health and Environment to quickly diagnose, treat, control and prevent the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as leptospirosis, is being strengthened through the commencement of the Enzyme-Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay (ELISA) test, at the National Public Health Laboratory in Kingston.
The ELISA is a rapid test capable of detecting the first sign of illness associated with leptospirosis infection in humans during the first week of illness, thereby allowing for early confirmation, diagnosis, confirmation, and treatment of the disease. The programme is part of an overall 350,000 Euro grant from European Community Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), to “reduce the health risks after Hurricane Dean on the most affected population in Jamaica.” This initiative, a collaborative effort involving the Ministry, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and ECHO, with the latter providing some US$100,000 for its implementation. Some six to 10 medical technologists drawn from the laboratory and Cornwall Regional Hospital will undergo specialized training between February 18 and February 22 to administer the test.
The programme was officially launched at the National Public Health Laboratory in Kingston, today (February 18).Speaking at the ceremony, Director for the Ministry’s National Laboratory Services, Dr. Jennifer Thame, welcomed the programme, underscoring its importance in the Ministry’s thrust to curtail vector-borne diseases.
“As you are aware, leptospirosis is a worldwide public health and animal disease that is endemic to Jamaica, and is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. The establishment of this facility will enable us to perform early confirmation and diagnosis, which are essential in the treatment of these leptospirosis cases,” she pointed out.
She added that with the facility, coupled with the several strategies developed, and complemented by their surveillance unit, the Ministry aimed to “handle outbreaks and have a positive impact on the outcome.””This is a further step in improving the delivery of efficient and necessary laboratory services to the Jamaican people by the National Public Health Laboratory, to which we are committed,” Dr. Thame emphasized.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Environment show that some 1,713 suspected cases of leptospirosis were reported last year, representing a 95 per cent increase over 2006. Of this number, 253 or 24 per cent were confirmed, with 60 per cent of these coming in the last quarter of the year. Similarly, in 2007, a total of 1,521 cases of dengue were confirmed out of 5,290 suspected cases, which was 21 times the figure recorded in 2006. Almost 80 of these were reported during the last quarter of 2007.
PAHO/World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Jamaica, Dr. Ernest Pate said that the strengthening of Jamaica’s leptospirosis diagnostic capacity represented the second phase of the vector control intervention initiative being jointly undertaken with ECHO.
In a brief message read by PAHO’s Environmental Health Advisor in Jamaica, Dr. Jomera Silva, Dr. Pate disclosed that this phase of the programme also includes focus on implementing rodent and mosquito control and prevention activities in St. James, Clarendon and St. Mary, “parishes with significant vector control problems.”
“The support will facilitate the establishment of testing capacity at the National Public Health Laboratory and the strengthening of that presently offered by the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH). This will be implemented through the provision of the required equipment, supplies, and reagents and the training of laboratory technicians to conduct the test methods. This (ELISA) method is presently utilized at CRH laboratories, which processes 20-30 human specimens monthly. This capacity will be enhanced three folds through the present technical support,” Dr. Pate outlined. He added that the national laboratory would also complement the services currently offered by the Ministry of Agriculture’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory that currently provides specialized testing to determine the type of leptospira causing the disease (leptospirosis).
The PAHO/WHO representative said the first phase of the intervention, which was undertaken between September and November 2007, entailed Aedes aegypti control and prevention activities implemented in 61 communities in Clarendon, Manchester, St. Elizabeth, St. Catherine, St. Ann, and Portland. The Aedes aegypti is the main vector which transmits dengue fever.
“An estimated 155,000 persons benefited directly from these interventions. In addition, these and other control measures implemented by the Ministry of Health resulted in all ECHO prioritized parishes, excepting one, reporting no case of dengue in December (2007). However, although there were improvements in the leptospirosis case numbers, only one of the ECHO prioritized parishes reported no case in November,” Dr. Pate informed.
He said the strengthening of the diagnostic capacity is one of a number of efforts recommended by PAHO/WHO to deal with the outbreaks of leptospirosis (and dengue fever), adding that “we are extremely pleased to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and Environment in this matter.”
ECHO representative in Jamaica, Helen Jenkinson, also underscored the necessity of the programme, within the context of ensuring that none of the diseases would adversely impact on the country’s tourism industry.