Basseterre, St. Kitts, September 30, 2016 (SKNIS): The role of the Environmental Health Officers in the Ministry of Health was highlighted during the Government’s radio and television programme “Working for You” on September 28. Their role includes reducing vectors by means of a holistic effort involving the department itself, creating awareness and motivating action on the part of the general public.
Jermaine Lake, Deputy Chief Environmental Health Officer with responsibility for Vector Control, said that the Environmental Health Officers have a standard procedure that they follow but this has been heightened since the Zika Virus has been confirmed in the Federation.
“And so it’s a holistic approach that the officers take; it’s about source reduction in terms of mosquitoes, overall for everything,” he said. “But I think that what has happened is that with the confirmation that there is Zika in the country there’s a heightened awareness about mosquitoes and sanitary conditions and environmental health. Perhaps some of the persons I spoke to did not remember some of what I said, but now they’re looking forward to either hearing it again or hearing it if they didn’t hear it at all.
Dr. Retna Walwyn-Browne, Acting Director of Community-Based Health Services, echoed Mr. Lake’s sentiments, noting that when there are outbreaks of new illnesses, such as Zika, the Environmental Health Department will increase efforts toward educating the public along with source reduction of vectors, and in this case the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Mr. Lake revealed that the normal duties do include house and property inspections, school inspections, giving talks to schools, churches and other community groups, both governmental and non-governmental “to evangelize” about maintaining sanitary conditions. He said that just that morning (September 28) he had done a lecture at the Food Handler’s Clinic, which enables handlers to obtain their food-handlers permits. He said that during his presentation there were certain key things that Environmental Health Officers observe when investigating most communicable diseases. He gave the example of leptospirosis.
“Leptospirosis is something which generally is associated with rats and mice or cockroaches in our environment,” Mr. Lake said. “Almost every time we see a case of leptospirosis, we see three things: (1) rats or mice, (2) a person, (3) food. And oftentimes, in fact, anytime a rat or mouse goes and bites, say a bag of flour, it number one (urinates) and number two (defecates) right there after it finishes eating. And rats, mice, cockroaches, flies and other pests, they come around generally when there is something attracting them.”
“And the attractant usually is some insanitary matter or condition around, and when we go and investigate cases of leptospirosis it’s almost always, somebody ate some food and a rat or mouse got too.”
The Deputy Chief Environmental Health Officer noted that there are also some unseen duties such as the Port Health Programme that is undertaken by Environmental Health Officers. He said traps are stationed at the Deep Water Port to collect adult mosquitoes, which are taken to Ross University School of Veterinary Sciences where their DNA is analyzed for signs of Zika or Dengue. Ovitrapping is also done to collect the eggs of Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Officers also go to aircrafts and sea vessels to look at the passenger manifest to see if passengers are coming from countries where there is yellow fever or certain other communicable diseases, and will determine if they need to be monitored. Port Health Officers also collect the insecticide spray canisters that are used on aircrafts as evidence that the aircraft was sprayed.