EDITORIAL -Timely call for health check
Football fans planning to travel to Brazil for the World Cup should heed the warning of the health ministry to get vaccinated against yellow fever and measles and consider stocking up on antimalarial drugs as well.
The World Cup health warning comes less than a month before the show gets on the road on June 12, when fans from across the globe will converge on the soccer-loving South American country to see their favourite stars compete for football glory.
Dr Marion Bullock-DuCasse, the health ministry's director of emergency, disaster management and special services, in issuing the warning, revealed that Brazil is currently in the grip of a measles outbreak. She fears increased spread of this highly communicable disease throughout Jamaica if adequate precaution is not taken by football tourists. There is good reason for her to be fearful.
We share Dr Bullock-DuCasse's concern since scientific advances have produced new and powerful vaccines that have eliminated many diseases which once burdened our public-health system and destroyed lives. Jamaica's immunisation programme has successfully eliminated a number of these potentially deadly diseases over time, including malaria and poliomyelitis.
Public adherence to preventive measures is crucial for a country such as ours, whose health-care facilities are bursting at the seams and seem incapable of dealing with any kind of epidemic that would require mass hospitalisation.
Despite the elimination of some infectious diseases, Jamaicans may recall the dengue outbreak of 1977. The virus was believed to have been imported from Africa into Jamaica, and it quickly spread throughout the Caribbean, bringing grief to many people for more than a decade. Confirmed or suspected cases of dengue have been reported regularly over the years. There is no vaccine against dengue, and experts suggest that vector control is the best way of combating the disease.
Added to the dengue worry is another disease, chikungunya, hitherto generally unknown in the region. It was reported to be present in St Martin by the World Health Organization in December 2013. At last update, earlier this month, the disease had spread to more than a dozen countries in the region, including our neighbours, the Dominican Republic. More than 3,500 cases have been confirmed and more than 20,000 suspected cases are being investigated.
The pesky mosquito is the common enemy of many illnesses, including dengue and chikungunya. In both cases, a virus spreads through mosquito bites. Just one bite can prove deadly. It, therefore, requires a concerted effort from policymakers, health-care officials and the community to be vigilant in the storage and use of domestic water and to monitor drains, gully areas and standing bodies of water, which are solid breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Resources have to be found to employ trained personnel in ensuring strengthened environmental control and proper sanitation measures in all our communities. As more cases are discovered, the travelling public may decide to shun the Caribbean, which could be a knockout punch for many of the region's struggling economies that depend solely on the tourist dollar.
It seems, therefore, that the warning to football fans travelling to Brazil is timely, but should be strengthened by robust, local action to protect the population from within.
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