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The Ministry of Health is reporting an increase in the incidence of gastroenteritis, malaria and dengue fever across the island, due largely to the prevailing drought conditions, and is looking to implement a national hand washing campaign as part of measures to contain the spread.
Speaking at Thursday’s (February 18) post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House, portfolio Minister, Hon. Rudyard Spencer, said the Ministry’s surveillance mechanism had detected increases of up to 100 per cent in the number of cases of the three non-communicable diseases.
“The Ministry. is concerned as we believe that the current conditions are influencing the disease profile of the country. (and).that the. drought. will serve to exacerbate the spread of these illnesses,” he bemoaned.
He informed that the Ministry is sourcing funding for the hand washing campaign, which is estimated to cost some $15 million, and has already completed the printed material with the assistance of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).
“We believe that frequent and proper hand washing is important to assist in stemming the spread of viral and bacterial diseases. We will also continue to emphasise ways in which persons should wash hands properly, even with limited running water. The use of alcohol-based sanitisers is also advised to reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria,” the Minister stated.
The campaign is in addition to three radio commercials, two on gastroenteritis and one on hand washing, which are being aired on six radio stations, and an ongoing public education programme, which involves the provision of information and resource material to communities.
“The Ministry is making efforts to further educate the public about the diseases of concern as well as waste disposal and water storage and treatment options. This would ensure that they are equipped with the necessary information to allow for the use and consumption of safe water and preventing harbouring mosquito breeding sites,” he informed.
Giving a breakdown of the findings of the surveillance, the Minister informed that up to the end of January, there were 3,890 reported cases of gastroenteritis, with about 1,454 cases detected between January 24 and 30. The cases for January represented a
30 per cent increase over the 2,989 cases for the corresponding period last year.
A breakdown of cases by parish, showed Kingston and St. Andrew leading the list with 1,202, followed by Clarendon – 571; Manchester – 389; St. Catherine – 286;
St. Mary – 263; St. Thomas – 235; St. James – 212; St. Ann – 202; Westmoreland – 150; Trelawny – 80; Hanover – 78; and St. Elizabeth – 62.
“We are particularly concerned about children under five years old, who seem to be most affected. We have seen 2,019 cases of gastroenteritis islandwide in this age group as at the end of January,” Mr. Spencer lamented.
Regarding dengue fever, the Health Minister advised that there were 19 confirmed cases also as at the end of January, compared to 10 for the corresponding period last year. Of this number, he said three were confirmed cases of the more dangerous dengue haemorrhagic fever, “which can lead to death.”
He pointed out that the Ministry had instructed all parishes to heighten their surveillance efforts for dengue fever as at last October, in the wake of a reported outbreak in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
As it relates to malaria, Mr. Spencer told journalists that there have been four confirmed cases since January, two in Mountain View and one in the Red Hills Road area and the other in St. Elizabeth. He informed that last year there were a total of 15 cases, six of which were in Kingston and St. Andrew.
“Teams from the respective Health Departments have been out in the field doing house-to-house fever surveillance in the affected areas. Anti-malaria treatment has been administered for the confirmed persons and malaria control and eradication activities have been implemented in the communities. A positive breeding site for the Anopheles mosquito, which transmits the virus, was identified and destroyed. Fogging and public education have also been continued,” he informed.