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Acting Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon. Peter Phillips is assuring Jamaicans and tourists alike that the government is taking decisive action to deal with the outbreak of malaria that has been found in sections of the capital, Kingston and the adjoining parish of St Catherine.
This assurance comes in the wake of reports from the Ministry of Health of 21 confirmed cases of malaria caused by the plasmodium falciparum, which is transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito.
Stressing the government’s commitment to addressing the outbreak, the Acting Prime Minister reiterated that Cabinet has approved an allocation of J$30.2 million, to provide an emergency response to the outbreak of malaria in certain parts of the country.
A Central Board of Health has also been convened in order to gain commitment of all parties both public and private to the prevention and control of malaria.According the Minister of Health, Horace Dalley there is need for collaboration to deal with the outbreak.
“We are collaborating with other Ministries and Agencies in order to obtain their cooperation and support in implementing control measures such as the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, National Solid Waste Management Authority, Port Authorities, National Environmental Protection Agency and National Water Commission,” he stated in the nation’s Parliament on December 5.
Giving similar assurances about the government’s commitment, the Health Minister declared that the outbreak is being treated as an emergency health situation and not as an epidemic.
He also disclosed that his Ministry had activated its Emergency Operations Centre on December 1 as soon as confirmation came that an apparent outbreak had been detected in three areas in Kingston.
Of the 21 confirmed cases, 16 cases are females, five males with the age range from five to 72 years and an average of 30 years, with dates of onset between September 27 and November 30. To date, however, no deaths have been attributed to the disease.
In terms of how the funds will be allocated, the Health Minister indicated that it would be used to support a rigorous malaria prevention and control programme. This includes preventing local transmission of the malaria parasite; identifying cases of malaria in order to effect prompt treatment, prevent complications and further spread and most importantly maintain Jamaica’s non-endemic status.
In order to achieve these objectives specific measures have been implemented including the development of case definitions, diagnostic criteria and patient management protocols for distribution to relevant personnel.
Minister Dalley said that due to the fifty-year absence of malaria, there were several doctors who have never diagnosed a case of the disease.
“My Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sheila Campbell-Forrester, along with the other members of the clinical team in ministry have redeveloped the protocol to send out to the physicians all around just to refresh them on how to identify and treat malaria,” the Health Minister pointed out.
In addition, Epidemiological Investigations are being carried out using several teams for ‘house to house’ fever surveillance within a kilometre radius of the residence of all cases.
So far, 1,492 households have been visited and 905 persons interviewed. The total number of fever cases identified in these homes, amount to 305. As of this December 5, some 242 samples of blood have been taken for smear testing.
The Ministry is also liasing with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which has dispatched an entomologist and epidemiologist to the island.
Director of Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services at the Health Ministry, Dr. Marion Bullock -DuCasse explained that these experts would provide guidance in terms of the approach and also to ensure that rapid containment of the disease is achieved. Support is also expected from the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre, who will assist with reading the slides in the laboratory to ensure timely results for patients to be treated effectively.
The Ministry is also working to strengthen the Mosquito Vector Control Programme and targeted interventions such as space fogging, which have been implemented to wipe out the breeding areas for the Anopheles mosquito, the primary spreader of the infection.
A public health education programme is also on the agenda. This will focus on specific communities to implement personal protective measures against mosquito bites and to encourage general cleanliness. School and workplaces will be targeted in the programme.
Two days ago, (Dec 4), the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, recommended that travellers, who may stay in Kingston, take prophylactic anti-malarial medication. Tourists visiting other areas of the island need not take this medication. This recommendation, according to the CDC website, is a temporary measure.
Jamaica was officially declared malaria-free in 1965 and has not had an endemic spread of this disease since then.