HEALTH BULLETIN | Tackling ZIKV
Capacity of virology lab being increased for ZIKV testing
The Ministry of Health is increasing the capacity of the virology lab at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) to facilitate Zika virus (ZIKV) testing.
Portfolio Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said an additional PCR machine dedicated to ZIKV testing has been ordered for the lab.
"Additional staff has been deployed and others are being recruited to assist at the UHWI virology lab. Discussions of a shift system for increased ZIKV testing are ongoing," Tufton said.
The minister also announced that working with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), it has trained staff and established the capacity to do ELISA testing.
"This will allow us to tell whether pregnant women ever had the Zika versus or whether they are having Zika. This will eliminate the three- to five-day window, allowing us more flexibility to diagnose Zika infection," he said.
He added that the ministry is in discussion with PAHO on the possibility of widely introducing the ELISA test, as the cost to test 40,000 pregnant women at the current price of US$20 per test would be US$800,000.
Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of ZIKV are fever, rash, joint pain and red eye.
The unborn child is at high risk of developing microcephaly once the pregnant woman has been infected with ZIKV.
Microcephaly is an abnormal smallness of the head, which is associated with incomplete brain development.
Currently, there are 44 laboratory-confirmed cases of ZIKV. Up to July 18, the Ministry of Health received reports of 3,746 notifications for the virus. Of this amount, 2,524, or 67 per cent, of these fit the case definition and were classified as "suspected Zika fever".
Among these were 231 pregnant women, all of whom have been tested. Seven were confirmed ZIKV positive and have been informed.
MOH starts online reporting to help track ZIKV, other diseases
The Ministry of Health (MOH) has started an online reporting system for symptoms associated with the Zika virus and other diseases in a bid to be able to track them more effectively and in real time. In recognition of the fact that not all persons see a medical doctor when they are ill, the Surveillance Self-Reporting Survey allows any citizen with access to the Internet to enter information on recently experienced medical complaints or symptoms which may be associated with a disease that is of importance to the National Surveillance System.
The survey is applicable to a range of communicable diseases and protects the identity of anyone who is filling it out. This means that data cannot be used to pinpoint an individual and enhances the confidentiality of the document. It will also be easy to access the document as persons will not need to download and install an app, but open the link that goes directly to the survey.
As a precaution, the MOH will validate and cross-check the findings of the online survey with reports from the routine and ongoing Sentinel Surveillance System. Persons are also being encouraged to provide accurate information required by the survey fields.
To access the survey, go to the ministry's website and click on 'Zika FAQs' in the Public Education Resources section. Once you have clicked on the Zika FAQs, scroll down the page and go to the Surveillance Self-Reporting Survey heading and click the link. See URL below: https://nhis.mohjm.com/survey/index.php?r=survey/index&sid=462121&lang=en
Individuals who wish to obtain more information may call the Ministry of Health or the nearest health centre. Persons may also visit our website at moh.gov.jm and like and follow us on www.facebook.com/themohgovjm; https://twitter.com/themohgovjm; https://instagram.com/themohgovjm.
Jamaica takes part in clinical trials for ZIKV
Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton said Jamaica will shortly be participating in a number of clinical trials in the drive to find a vaccine to treat the Zika virus (ZIKV). The country's participation forms part of an international study and fight against ZIKV, supported by the World Health Organizaton.
The minister pointed out that the vaccine could become available within a year, but in the meantime, more persons and countries will be affected. He added that once the virus gets to its second phase, less people will be affected.
Jamaica is among some 65 countries fighting ZIKV, and Jamaicans are advised that the virus will continue to spread for a while.
"The Zika virus is new and there is no resistance. The immune system has not experienced it and developed the capacity to fight against it. So, when something is new, like Zika, it tends to spread faster until you develop some sort of resistance to it," Tufton said.
He said the Government is determined to empower citizens to fight ZIKV through the free flow of information at all levels, and that once persons are informed, they will be better able to tackle the virus.
"The biggest and most significant line of defence to fight this virus is us," the minister emphasised.
He urged citizens to clean their environment to get rid of the breeding sites of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the carrier of the Zika virus.
Slippage in AIDS response in the Caribbean
"Complacency is largely responsible for the slippage in the AIDS response in the Caribbean". This is the view of the UN Secretary General Special Envoy for HIV in the Caribbean, Dr Edward Greene, who was speaking from Durban, South Africa, where more than 18,000 scientists, practitioners and members of civil society are meeting at the 21st International AIDS Conference.
Dr Greene was referring to the recent 2016 Prevention Gap Report issued by UNAIDS just before the conference began on July 18. That report shows that after years of steady decline, the Caribbean saw a 9 per cent rise in new infections between 2010 and 2015; only Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with a rate of 57 per cent, had a higher increase. The Caribbean statistics compared with a two per cent increase in Latin America, three per cent in Asia and the Pacific, and four per cent in the Middle East, North Africa , Eastern and Southern Africa for the same period. In Western and Central Europe, North America and Western and Central Africa there have been marginal declines in new infections.
This global situation has caused Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS to sound the alarm that "if there is a resurgence now, the epidemic will be impossible to control. The world needs to take urgent and immediate action to close the prevention gap".
Elaborating on the situation for the Caribbean, Dr Greene said that it is necessary for a thorough analysis of the causes and direction of the prevention gap. Based on his close monitoring of developments in the region, he identified the possible causes as: inadequate attention to testing and treatment, including late testing of people with HIV, lack of care centres and fall in the rates of retention of infected people in care. These, he said, are compounded by the inequity in access to care especially for the vulnerable populations, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, those who inject drugs and prisoners.
"In the Caribbean generally, HIV-related stigma and discrimination is one of the major barriers for key populations" access to prevention options, since people do not feel safe or have the means to access combination services. Each time you describe this as a violation of human rights, there are some 'elements' that equate this with pushing a gay agenda. Now we are seeing the consequences, which could be devastating for the Caribbean," he said.
According to Dr Greene, the complacency and/or inefficiency on the part of several governments has resulted in insufficient supplies of medicines and inadequate treatment regimes which fail to immediately treat those that have been diagnosed as HIV-positive, one of the cardinal principles of arresting the spread of the disease.