Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
JAMAICANS are being urged to keep their children away from rivers, streams and all water bodies which could pose risks to their health.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding, in a presentation to Parliament yesterday, said the Government was involved in a massive effort to keep Jamaica cholera-free and said citizens must also play their part.
"We must all ensure that we practise good hygiene, wash our hands with soap regularly, drink only boiled water or bottled water ... ," the prime minister said.
His address to the House of Representatives came amid an outbreak of cholera in neighbouring Haiti.
Health officials in Haiti say nearly 300 people are now known to have died in a cholera outbreak in that country. The United Nations said 25 more people had died of the disease on Tuesday, bringing the total to 284. A total of 3,612 cases have been reported. There are no reported cases in Jamaica.
"We should take special care to ensure that our children do not play in dirty or stagnant water or swim in rivers, since cholera is essentially a water-borne disease," the prime minister said.
"Where we have concerns has to do with the fact that, in several areas that have been inundated, pit latrines have in some instances been washed out. In some instances, the flooding has been so great that water from pit latrines and surface water have become one body of water. This is why the precautionary measures in terms of avoiding contaminated water, in terms of making sure we boil water before we use it for domestic purposes, become so critical," Golding said.
He told the House of Represen-tatives that the Ministry of Health will be ramping up operations in communities such as Chigwell and Forest in Hanover, New River and Newmarket in St Elizabeth, and Pedro River in St Ann, which have been suffering from rising waters since the passage of Tropical Storm Nicole late last month.
Jamaica was last hit by a cholera outbreak more than 150 years ago, when more than 30,000 people, or 10 per cent of the population, died.
Yesterday, Golding said the Coast Guard had increased the number of patrols on the high seas in a bid to prevent persons fleeing cholera-affected Haiti from entering Jamaica's borders.
He also said airport surveillance for arriving passengers has been intensified and "adequate medical personnel will be stationed at our airports to detect and respond to potential or apparent cases of infection".
Golding added: "Close monitoring by the police and military is also being undertaken at specific beaches used by small craft travelling from Haiti."
He said: "Heightened surveillance is also being undertaken by JDF personnel stationed at the Pedro Cays where fisherfolk interact from time to time with persons from Haiti."
Golding said a team of health professionals has been identified locally who are ready to move into Haiti to offer assistance if that country desires them.
Meanwhile, Dr Fenton Ferguson, the opposition spokesman on health, said there were greater issues related to cholera prevention than having a response plan in place.
"Unless we have the requisite funding, nothing that the prime minister has said today, except as it relates to our citizens in terms of prevention, will make that major difference in terms of the prevention of cholera," Ferguson said.
Golding, however, said the funding was in place to fight the disease.
Symptoms of cholera
Cholera symptoms can sometimes be severe, but might also be non-existent or mild.
Symptoms include fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain and muscle cramps.
Diarrhoea and vomiting associated with cholera can lead to rapid loss of body fluids, which can cause dehydration and shock. Without adequate treatment, death can occur within hours.
Cholera is transmitted when a person drinks water or eats food contaminated with the cholera bacterium.
Persons experiencing any of the symptoms of cholera should immediately seek medical attention.
For more information, individuals may call the National Emergency Operations Centre at 1-888-663-5683 (Monday to Friday 8:30am to 5:00pm).