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The prevalence of vectors in Jamaica has made mapping the entire island for these organisms a challenging goal for the Vector Control Unit of the Ministry of Health (MOH).
However, in its bid to curtail the spread of insect vectors or vector-borne illnesses, the Unit continues to work assiduously to carry out Vector Control activities in communities across the island.
Vectors are organisms that do not cause disease, but which transmit infection by conveying pathogens from one host to another. Vector Control is the management of vectors by reducing or eliminating their populations and chances of disease transmission; or reducing or eliminating their ability to cause harm or annoyance.
Some communities, because of their locations, are at a higher risk of individuals contracting or becoming infected by vector borne illnesses, such as malaria or dengue.
A large pool of workers is therefore needed to guarantee maximum coverage of these areas. Sadly, until recently, these activities were seriously hampered by a dire lack of human resources – that is, until the Ministry of Health was able to conceptualise a symbiotic method of solving this human resource problem – an exchange of labour for learning.
The National Youth Service (NYS) operates a number of programmes, which aim to effectively address many of the social issues facing young people in Jamaica. The Corps programme is one of many operated by the NYS.
It combines training in specific career skills, re-socialisation and work experience to develop positive attitudes and values among participants, in the areas of self, work place, community and nation. It involves a four-week career training and a six-month job placement for high school graduates aged 17-24 years.
Realising the enormous benefits that both organisations could gain from Vector Control training, the Ministry of Health consulted the NYS and in October, 2008, partnered to train 335 unattached youths enrolled with the NYS, as Vector Control Facilitators.
‘Unattached youths’ is defined as individuals, aged 17-24, who are not in school, unemployed and are not participating in any training course.
“We have a problem with malaria and it was the central focus at the time, and we thought that we would be proactive by getting these youngsters to be part of the public health team to go out in the communities and collect the data, because we didn’t want the rains to start before we identify these sites,” Manager of the Adolescent Health Project in the Ministry of Health, Joy Chambers, explains.
“So if we knew where the sites were before, they could go in, collect the data, provide the information to the officers, who would go in and do the spraying and other treatment,” she adds.
These Facilitators, Ms. Chambers notes, were trained in environmental health, including vector breeding, for approximately one (1) month, to provide a boost in mapping the breeding sites for the Aegis Aegypti mosquito.
Of note is the Geographical Information System (GIS) aspect of the training, where some participants receive maps to do GIS Mapping. “Not many of them were able to do so, but a few were exposed to this as we would not have the equipment for every community,” she explains.
Upon completion, the participants are assigned to the health authorities and are now serving a six-month stint in health centres across the island. Their responsibilities include visiting various sites with the Health team.
“They are not usually left on their own; they go with the team, as this offers some protection. They do this daily and in the afternoons they take back the data that is collected so it can be analysed to assist with intervention,” she states.
“There were so many of them, there were over 300, so we had enough young people to work within each parish and in the various communities. So this really was a great boost to our team and it was really very effective,” she went on.
She is quite pleased with this capacity building endeavour, and eagerly anticipates the next cadre of NYS participants to be trained as Facilitators.
Ms. Chambers says that total coverage of the Vector Control efforts is now being assessed. However, quoting the last report received, she said that 94,000 households have already been screened.
Director of Programmes at the NYS, Howard Gardner, considers this one of the more fruitful programmes with the Ministry.
“In 2006-2007, NYS participants were trained as lay diabetes facilitators in communities. Subsequently they (the Ministry of Health) asked us again to engage in one of the most fruitful programmes we have engaged in with them – the Vector Control programme,” he informs.
“They approached the NYS to find out if, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, we could train a corps of young persons that would be able to provide a boost in mapping the breeding site for the Aegis Aegypti mosquitos across the island, that it could enhance the Ministry’s GIS mapping of vectors across the island,” he says.
Though not the first MOH/NYS collaboration, Miss Chambers says that these joint initiatives remain mutually beneficial.
“We have been collaborating with the National Youth Service for quite some time. We train young people at least twice per annum with regards to health care. We train them how to promote healthy lifestyle, we introduce them to all the health themes – nutrition, violence prevention, sexuality, HIV and other things and we do so in collaboration with our partners, the National Council on Drug Abuse, our HIV partners, and, where necessary, other Non-Governmental Organisations,” she says.
“We also train youngsters in specific areas; recently we trained a cadre of environmental health promotion facilitators. These are young people who work along with our public health inspectors,” she points out.