Tue | Dec 10, 2019

Editors' Forum | They used to chase us, too, says Red Cross - Humanitarian crews delegate clean-up work to residents after attacks

Published:Monday | December 2, 2019 | 12:07 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Audrey Mullings, member of the executive board of the Jamaica Red Cross.
Lois Hue, deputy director general of the Red Cross, says moral suasion and community integration have been key to breaking resistance to clean-up campaigns.
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The Jamaica Red Cross has revealed that its humanitarian teams have come under attack during community clean-ups and sensitisation drives, forcing the organisation to recruit or incorporate residents of volatile inner cities to execute campaigns.

The disclosure comes days after fogging crews lamented the hostility they faced while battling the spread of dengue fever in low-income neighbourhoods, with the latest casualty being Dwayne Solomon, who was injured in a hail of stones in Trench Town, southern St Andrew, last Wednesday.

Data obtained by The Gleaner indicate that fogging crews and other vector-control field workers have been victim to at least 21 violent attacks in four parishes this year, with 15 in St Catherine alone.

Audrey Mullings, who sits on the Jamaica Red Cross executive board and who has years of disaster-management experience locally and internationally, said their teams have had to exercise extreme caution when engaging certain communities.

“We have to sensitise the community or get people who are in the community to do it – not our people going in, but to get the members in the community. They have to be alerted and so on; you can’t just go in – or else,” Mullings told journalists at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last Friday.

Lois Hue, deputy director general at the Red Cross, said that they were unaware of the motive of the aggression, citing that “we actually got to that stage where they used to chase us”.

Let them do it

“Out of our experience, because we have been doing it, we discovered that we were making mistakes like everybody else, going in to clean it up. So we have reached a stage with many communities where we simply carry in the things and give them, and we stay there and watch them do the clean-up,” Hue said.

The Red Cross revealed that community buy-in was crucial to efforts to rid communities of breeding sites for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector of dengue. The organisation provides residents with wheelbarrows, garbage bags, rakes, and gloves for basic clean-up exercises.

“That is exactly what we do now. We let them know ahead of time that we are working with them on other things, too, and we talk to them about children and school, and doing activities with them, and they get to be friendly, and they are welcoming to us,” Hue said, referring to the success of moral suasion.

“When they are done, they are so proud of themselves, they pose for pictures,” Hue told The Gleaner.

Opposition Spokesman on Health Dr Morais Guy, during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on November 21, chided the health ministry for not doing its “homework”, while contending that vector-control field workers should not be attacked.

“One of the things that is important in all of this, and PAHO (the Pan-American Health Organization), they are abroad, but they advise us that in this vector-control programme, you need to involve the community in it. So if you are going to get vector-control workers, you get them from the communities in which you want them to work so people are less fearful of people and strangers coming to their house,” Guy said.

But Maurice Goldson, managing director of Rentokil, a pest-control company, warns that fogging involves environmental hazards that are far more dangerous than picking up garbage. Handling chemicals requires specialised training that cannot be equated to clean-up campaigns, he said.

Goldson also told The Gleaner that many residents have not grasped the severity and scope of the dengue crisis, which has claimed 46 lives in 2019.

“These persons haven’t realised that it (dengue) is a disaster situation as yet. That realisation has not come across. They are still able to walk up and down and still able to get in and out of their house. ... It is then harder to say to persons, ‘Listen, here, I need you to do this particular thing, which is a very simple thing’,”he said.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com