Editorial: Pregnancy and Zik-V
Prevention, the saying goes, is better than cure. And more so when there is really no effective cure.
In that context, there is obvious logic in the health ministry's suggestion to Jamaican women to delay pregnancy by up to one year, echoing a call being increasingly made across Latin America and the Caribbean in the face of the growing threat of the Zika virus (ZIKV). Yet, even as we welcome this development and acknowledge other initiatives being pursued by the Jamaican authorities, we still hope for a far more coordinated and aggressive programme of public health management and vector control. At this time, though, the matter of ZIKV control must not be allowed to be the subject of partisan political bickering, as was the case with the chikungunya (chik-V) epidemic.
Until recently, ZIKV was portrayed as one of those God-awful irritating ailments that left its victims with flu-like systems, such as aches and pains, similar to those associated with dengue fever and chik-V, which laid tens of thousands of Jamaicans low in 2014. But few thought it led to long-lasting and serious medical conditions, but, maybe, for muscle aches, except for people with underlying conditions that were exacerbated by the disease.
But emerging information from Brazil, one of the countries to which ZIKV has spread in this hemisphere, suggests that it may be the culprit of something far worse - microcephaly, a condition developed by babies in the womb that may cause them to be born prematurely or stillborn. Or, if they survive to birth, they are likely to have abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.
In Brazil in 2014, 147 babies were reported with this condition. Last year, with the Zika virus having reached the South American country, more than 3,000 were recorded. Most of the mothers who bore these babies had contracted ZIKV. Now, medical researchers are attempting to determine whether there is something more than mere coincidental correlation between those statistics.
In the meantime, health officials have urged caution with pregnancies, telling women to, for the time being, avoid it altogether, or if they become pregnant, be careful against being bitten by the vector of the Zika virus, the Aedes aegypti mosquito - the same one that transmits chik-V and dengue. Jamaica, appropriately, we believe, is on board. For, as the health minister, Horace Dalley, pointed out, "ZIKV is inching closer and closer to Jamaica as several of our Caribbean neighbours have reported cases".
Jamaican health officials say no cases have reported on the island as yet, despite the claim by the Opposition's shadow health minister, Marlene Malahoo Forte, to have been "reliably informed" to the contrary by medical sources. On the face of it, we, at this time, have no reason to contradict Minister Dalley. We hope the Opposition's aim is not to create, for narrow ends, a defensive paralysis over the management of the disease, as happened with chik-V, when the then health minister, Fenton Ferguson, focused on political perceptions rather than the real crisis facing the country.
Mr Dalley has launched a brigade of young people to spread information about ZIKV and promote community eradication of breeding sites of the vector. But this should be only a part of a wider, government-led clean-up of the public spaces and a new focus on preventative and primary health care. Responsible parenthood should be incorporated into this message.