Eliminating mosquito breeding sites, avoiding mosquito bites, and protecting pregnant women from Zika virus are the key messages of the inaugural Caribbean Mosquito Awareness Week, launched Monday by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the CARICOM Secretariat.
With the slogan “Fight the bite, destroy mosquito breeding sites”, this first Mosquito Awareness Week, 9-15 May, will focus on Zika and the risks associated with the disease, especially for pregnant women. The annual week was declared at the 17th meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government in November 2014.
This is the first year that Caribbean countries will engage in this campaign, a joint initiative between member states and the three organisations, that aims to raise awareness of the need to eliminate mosquito breeding sites and use personal protection to prevent mosquito borne diseases.
On 1 February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, following the increase in neonatal malformations and neurological disorders associated with the circulation of the Zika virus. Local Zika virus transmission has been reported in 37 countries and territories of the Americas.
Cases of Zika virus were first seen in the Caribbean in November of 2015. So far the virus has been identified in 14 CARPHA member states, and eight other Caribbean nations as well as an imported case in one territory. As the rainy season sets in that number is expected to climb.
The most effective way to protect people from Zika is by eliminating places where the mosquitoes can breed in and around homes, workplaces and the local community. This fight will require an intersectoral approach, collaboration between government agencies, organisations and businesses on all levels. Mosquito control and awareness activities need to be intensified as the rainy season approaches.
Actions that can be taken include covering tanks, removing stagnant water sources and individuals protecting themselves and their family from bites. Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites and enlist the help of family, friends and neighbours to destroy breeding sites.
“The spread of dengue, Chikungunya and now Zika in the Region points to a big weakness in national and regional health, and economic security,” CARPHA Executive Director, Dr. C James Hospedales said. “CARPHA supports a community-based, technology-enabled approach in the fight against mosquito borne viral diseases and encourages all, especially youth to download and play our Zap-a-‘quito mobile game.”
“This is a week where we will focus on mobilising the community to take action to eliminate the mosquito that causes dengue, chikungunya and now Zika. We want everyone to take part. No action is too small. Just emptying water out of a garden pot can rob the mosquito of a breeding site,” PAHO director, Carissa F. Etienne said. “PAHO and the Caribbean have a long history in tackling mosquito-borne diseases. But we need to do more. And together we can do that.”
“Our region depends significantly on tourism for economic development and we are all aware that there have been and there might be more travel advisories for tourists, which can impact our economy. We are concerned about the cost implications,” CARICOM Assistant Secretary General Dr Slater said. “Although this Mosquito Awareness Week we are focusing on the Aedes Agypti we wish to address all mosquitoes that threaten our health and development.”
The week of activities includes a Mosquito Awareness Mini Fair at CARPHA headquarters. The mini fair is open during the week to school groups and the general public and will feature activities including exhibits, live demonstrations, interactive games and a “mosquito hunt”. Throughout the week, events will be held across the Caribbean to engage communities and inspire local action on mosquito control.