Editorial: Towards an effective mosquito plan
The vigour and energy with which Health Minister Horace Dalley is pouring into the anti-Zika virus (ZIKV) campaign suggest that important lessons have been learnt from the chikungunya fiasco which killed some persons, sickened many, and cost Dr Fenton Ferguson his job last year.
Cases of Zika virus, which is believed to cause birth defects, have been escalating in the region since late 2015, and will obviously test the mettle of Minister Dalley as the nation goes into preparation mode.
Warnings for women of reproductive age and media alerts for the entire population, intense fogging, destruction of breeding sites in communities, town hall meetings, stockpiling pharmaceuticals, airport fever monitors, and moves towards establishing local testing facilities are all part of the campaign. We get a sense that Mr Dalley, who once managed that portfolio, understands his responsibility to develop a national mosquito management plan to ensure the nation's safety.
When ZIKV finally arrives, as seems inevitable, even with the greatest efforts to clean up the environment and eliminate breeding sites of the Aedes genus of mosquitoes, persons will hopefully be better equipped to cope.
Will there come a time when the nation can breathe a sigh of relief and become complacent after the threat of the Zika virus has subsided? The evidence is that the wily mosquito - about 3,500 species in all - is not so easily conquered. A pattern is emerging whereby each year the pesky Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads diseases that interfere with the economic livelihood of countries. Whether it is dengue, chikungunya, West Nile, malaria or ZIKV, mosquito-borne diseases are wreaking havoc on economies by interrupting production flow and causing travel alerts to be issued for countries that depend on tourism.
More than a million deaths each year are blamed on mosquito-borne illnesses. Although some like the dengue have low mortality rates, yet they can have a debilitating impact, causing fevers and joint pains that create discomfort for the victims, especially the more vulnerable sectors of society, such as the elderly and very young.
Mosquitoes lay their eggs in containers such as cans, discarded tyres, and items that can hold water. The removal of all water-bearing containers is a key prevention strategy in the fight against mosquito-borne illnesses.
The way forward must involve the eternal vigilance of all individuals and communities. Homeowners need not wait on an official from the Ministry of Health to clean up their environment. They can get rid of containers that gather water, clear blocked gutters, repair leaking faucets, and change water in vases, thereby reducing their exposure to mosquitoes.
But as we look to a mosquito-burdened future, there may be need to introduce more sophisticated methods of managing the mosquito population, such as biological control, which would include the introduction of parasites and predators to target mosquitoes.
Until that time, the vigilance of which we speak also involves the rigid enforcement of the Litter Act to prevent the wanton disposal of garbage, which then becomes a breeding site for mosquitoes. Mosquito management demands more effective and sustainable practices by the entire population.