Jamaica takes pre-emptive steps against Cholera

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sheila Campbell-Forrester, has said the Health Ministry will be intensifying its efforts to prevent the spread of cholera in Jamaica, despite no reported outbreak of the disease in the island to date.
She noted that a multi-disciplinary approach based on prevention, preparedness and response, along with an efficient surveillance system, are key to mitigating, controlling and reducing deaths, noting that this is the strategy the Ministry is undertaking.
Dr. Campbell-Forrester was addressing senior health team members today (October 26), who met at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston for a cholera outbreak prevention and control national workshop. The session was held against the background of the recent outbreak of the disease in Haiti where 194 persons have died and an estimated 2,564 people are infected.
Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with or by the fecal waste of an infected person.
About 75 per cent of people infected with vibrio cholera do not develop symptoms, although the bacteria are present in their faeces for 7 to 14 days after infection and are shed back into the environment, potentially infecting others. Among people who develop symptoms, 80 per cent have mild or moderate symptoms, while around 20 per cent develop acute watery diarrhoea with severe dehydration.
Dr. Campbell-Forrester informed that surveillance in hospitals and pharmacies must be scaled up to ensure that useful information on the local situation is provided to the relevant authorities at all levels.
“We need to have surveillance in our communities in the non-traditional forms. In fact, even our community leaders can provide useful information as to what is happening,” she suggested, adding that timely reporting of data must be submitted.
She is encouraging the health sector to be pre-emptive, noting that non-traditional methods will be implemented to ensure that adequate personnel are available should there be an outbreak.
“We are going to have to train our healthcare workers to deliver oral rehydration fluids and to call on community health aids for instance,” she said, recalling that in the 70s and 80s, this method was used when there was a diarrhoea outbreak in the island.
She informed that adequate supplies of oral rehydration salts are available in the island, and that the monitoring of seafood processing plants will be undertaken.
Dr. Campbell-Forrester, in the meantime, is urging all citizens to do their part in ensuring proper hygiene and sanitation, adding that social mobilisation and health education is of utmost importance.
“We must get to our communities so that we can reinforce the messages of how to make water safe, the proper hand washing and hygiene techniques, and how to adequately and safely prepare food. It is really about taking responsibility for our own health and that of our families,” she stated.
She noted that Haiti’s situation is significant to Jamaica because of the close proximity of the islands. “We know that there are movements between Haiti and Jamaica, both ways. The risk of disease importation is high and this is where we talk about health security,” she said.
She pointed out further that the recent flood rains associated with the Tropical Storms have “compromised sanitation and hygiene in some areas,” informing that measures are being explored to get updates on the latrine sanitation and sewage treatment plants island wide.
Cholera affects both children and adults and can kill within hours. Up to 80 per cent of cases can be successfully treated with oral rehydration salts. Effective control measures rely on prevention, preparedness and response.
Provision of safe water and sanitation is critical in reducing the impact of cholera and other waterborne diseases. Oral cholera vaccines are considered an additional means to control cholera, but should not replace conventional control measures.
Jamaica has been cholera-free since 1852.

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