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Raining stones - Injured fogger recounts frightful attack in Trench Town as crews come under fire in dengue fight

Published:Friday | November 29, 2019 | 12:00 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter

Even as the Government ramps up its war against dengue fever by deploying fogging crews and home-inspection teams, vector-control field workers have been the casualty of 21 violent attacks in four parishes this year. Personnel have also escaped injury in numerous other incidents.

The central Jamaica parish of St Catherine has been the epicentre of the hostilities, with health ministry-commissioned personnel suffering injuries in 15 cases. There have been four attacks in Kingston and St Andrew, and one each in St Mary and Westmoreland.

Opposition has been most aggressive in low-income, inner-city communities as streets are transformed into battlegrounds, with stones the choice missile of angry residents.

Fogging – the dispensing of toxic chemical solutions that kill the Aedes aegypti mosquito but which poses no danger to householders – has been a key weapon in the arsenal of the authorities on the front line against dengue, which has caused at least 46 confirmed or suspected deaths in 2019 and 17 last year.

Most of the cases, the ministry said, involve children below 14 years old. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable cohorts.

Dwayne Solomon is the latest victim of a stone attack that took place in Trench Town on Wednesday.

Crewmen were conducting a fogging exercise in the south St Andrew inner-city neighbourhood when they came under fire as stone-throwers took aim.

“When we coming up back, we started fogging, and during that exercise, we just saw stone coming through the smoke at us. ... One hit me on my left arm and then next two drop in the vehicle,” Solomon told The Gleaner yesterday afternoon.

“We knock the vehicle, indicating to the driver that he need to drive up a little faster to come out of that vicinity. We don’t know if more could come to lick we in our head or anything like that.”

Solomon, stung with pain, was forced to seek medical attention for injuries to his hand. He has not been back on the job since he got hurt, as he has been ordered by a doctor to get rest and continue to receive treatment to prevent further swelling.

He has also made an official report to the police.

“We did an assessment to ensure that nobody else was hit and the vehicle was not damaged. I asked the team leader to take me to the Comprehensive Health Centre because I was feeling some pain and then contact my supervisor and staff to let them know what was happening.”

This is the second time that Solomon has come under attack while carrying out vector-control duties.

“The first was in the malaria time in the Fletchers Land area, but this is the first time this year for me,” he told the news team, referring to a central Kingston community scarred by urban blight.

Solomon told The Gleaner that he personally knows other co-workers who have sustained injuries at the hands of stone throwers, including one who was struck on the eye in the western St Andrew inner city of Waterhouse.

“He got couple of stitches. That was last month,” he said.

Solomon explained that foggers and other inspection crews operated in grave fear, uncertain when they might be set upon by agitated residents. He also disclosed that fogging operations were often cut short or abandoned altogether, putting householders at greater risk of contracting dengue fever in mosquito-friendly habitats.

“You can’t make a determination who a go fling stone at you. Some persons will accept us in the community and OK with us doing what we need to do, [but] some persons will signal us and tell us that we don’t need it right there so, and based on protocol from the office, we don’t do it. The residents have first priority, and so if there is something happening and they say no, we should move from there so.”

Other foggers were restive yesterday, demanding that the ministry intervene to protect them.

Yesterday, the health ministry expressed outrage at the hostility its field personnel faced, with the Government gearing up to intensify mitigation measures with a $1 billion clean-up drive set to begin.

“Again, even while we recognise the threat to all of us, we still have cases where persons are being negatively responded to in communities ... . I want to appeal to Jamaicans to recognise the importance of the vector workers. Give them access and listen to them because they are trained in order to provide some guidance,” said Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton during a press briefing at the ministry’s New Kingston offices yesterday.

Tufton warned that the perpetrators of attacks on vector-control workers would be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie reported that since August, there has been a rise in the intensity and volume of dengue cases in western Jamaica, particularly St James, Hanover Trelawny and Westmoreland, as well as the north-central parish of St Ann.