The Ministry of Health is implementing several measures this year aimed at strengthening the national vector management programme.
This is to minimise the risk of a potential onset or recurrence of vector-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, malaria, chikungunya, Zika and the mayaro virus, by reducing the mosquito population, particularly the Aedes aegypti, which are the primary transmitters.
Portfolio Minister, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, says the measures include institutionalising the Mosquito Control and Research Unit (MCRU) within the Ministry; developing national guidelines and best practices; conducting entomological surveillance and research and insecticide resistance testing as well as a vector control pilot and sterile mosquito project.
He outlined details of these activities during the recent opening of the newly established MCRU at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, in St. Andrew.
Dr. Tufton said the MCRU’s institutionalisation and incorporation of the expertise of the UWI, deemed a pivotal partner in the vector management programme, will be facilitated under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the entities.
Other key stakeholders expected to figure include the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“We are seeking to ensure that the relationships are institutionalised in order (that) we have the coordination necessary to get the maximum impact of the Unit,’ the Minister said.
Dr. Tufton added that the MCRU will also develop and/or update national guidelines and best practices for mosquito control and research.
These include the National Insecticide Resistance, and Emergency Vector Control Plan and Guidelines.
The Minister indicated that these will incorporate evidence-based protocols and be developed in consultation with key stakeholders, including the World Health Organization (WHO), PAHO, USAID and CARPHA.
He further advised that the USAID Zika AIRS Project (ZAP/Jamaica) will be pivotal to this undertaking.
The Zika AIRS Project is designed to enhance the USAID’s ability to implement vector control and entomological monitoring programmes in partner countries like Jamaica.
In the area of entomological surveillance and research, Dr. Tufton said independent studies will be conducted during field activities to ascertain the distribution pattern of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
He explained that the MCRU will assess and document the density and distribution pattern of the mosquito population islandwide.
“Eggs will be collected from sites across the island to determine the extent of (the pattern) and create a map of where the populations are located as part of the approach to (effect control) in those areas that are most vulnerable,” the Minister added.
Insecticide resistance testing will entail the MCRU’s establishment and maintenance of mosquito colonies in each parish, in order to assess the effectiveness of a range of insecticides on Aedes aegypti adult mosquitoes and larvae.
Under the sterile mosquito project, Dr. Tufton said the Government, through the Ministry, will participate in an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regional project that sees Jamaica and several other Caribbean countries piloting the sterile insect technique.
It is anticipated that this will provide another tool in the fight to control the mosquito population.
Dr. Tufton said with Jamaica being the largest participant, coupled with its capacity, the country’s endeavour in the initiative will be a “very important pilot”.
The Minister also indicated that activities will be conducted in select parishes under a vector control programme pilot. This will entail larviciding by teams of vector control technicians at the household level.
Dr. Tufton underscored the importance of the action, against the background of the impact of chikungunya and Zika on the populace in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
Jamaica also recorded a malaria outbreak in 2006, about 44 years after its eradication. Its transmission by the anopheles mosquito resulted in 406 confirmed cases between September 2006 and December 2009.
He said the chikungunya outbreak was impactful, particularly on productivity, as approximately 75 per cent of the population was afflicted, noting that some persons are still experiencing its debilitating effects.
“It was estimated that some $6.6 billion or 0.51 per cent of gross domestic product was lost from the 12.7 million man-hours lost,” the Minister added.
Dr. Tufton said with Jamaica at risk of the re-emergence of these diseases, and the onset of new ones like the mayaro virus, which was detected in Haiti in 2015, “we want, as best as possible, to understand the threat that is clear and present… and be in a position to address or pre-empt it before it occurs”.
Against this background, he said the targeted activities, underpinned by work to be conducted in the MCRUs established at the UWI and the National Public Health Laboratory on Slipe Pen Road in Kingston, with USAID support, will “put us in a position to be more on the offensive as opposed to being on the defensive… and that’s what prevention is all about as opposed to cure”.
For his part, Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Jamaica, Eric Khant, said that while regional countries are still learning about these “relatively new diseases”, most experts agree that the potential health and economic burden of chik-V and Zika in particular, is expected to be “enormous”
He said in light of the risk of an onset or re-emergence of these diseases, “we need to be ready”.
“We, therefore, applaud the Ministry of Health and University of the West Indies for their leadership and dedication in elevating mosquito control and research in Jamaica. The US Government, through USAID/ZAP and our other Zika (control) implementing partners, is committed to continue collaboration with you,” Mr. Khant added.
In his remarks, UWI Pro Vice-Chancellor and Mona Campus Principal, Professor Archibald McDonald, welcomed the wide-ranging partnerships, particularly CARPHA’s involvement in the MCRU
“CARPHA, like the UWI, is a regional organisation, and this (MCRU involvement) has two consequences. Firstly, the Mona Campus will align our agenda in mosquito control with CARPHA’s, and the results obtained at the MCRU will benefit member states of CARICOM,” he said.