Director of Emergency Disaster Management and Special Services in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Marion Bullock-DuCasse has expressed confidence that the country is ready to deal with any outbreak of the chikungunya disease, which has been declared an epidemic in the Caribbean.
The mosquito-borne illness was first detected in December 2013, in St. Martin, and has since spread to Antigua and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Chikungunya continues to spread in the region of the Americas and is now in 16 countries, with over 130,000 suspected cases and 4,500 confirmations.
International travel patterns make Jamaica vulnerable to the disease, but Mrs. Bullock-DuCasse said measures are being put in place to first prevent it from reaching the country, and to contain it if it does.
She noted that the country’s preparedness and response capabilities are in keeping with international recommendations. “Our strategy will be for early detection and rapid containment to ensure that the spread in Jamaica is minimal,” she stated.
Mrs. Bullock-DuCasse, who was addressing the annual National Disaster Committee Meeting held at Jamaica House on Wednesday, June 18, said the same strategies are being utilised for cholera.
Cholera was detected in Haiti in October 2010, with cases since being reported in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
Based on the proximity of these countries to Jamaica and travel patterns, “our health team has to maintain very stringent surveillance measures and also be able to respond immediately both in the clinical aspect and also for laboratory confirmation”, she said.
In the meantime, Mrs. Bullock-DuCasse said the health sector is “extremely proud” that to date there has not been a dengue outbreak in Jamaica as was previously anticipated, based on the current cycle.
“I would like to commend the entire health team for ensuring their work in that area and the partnerships with agencies such as the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), to assist in reducing breeding sites,” she said.
As it pertains to poliomyelitis, Mrs. Bullock-DuCasse informed that as of May 5, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the disease an international public-health emergency concern.
This is based on the fact that there is currently transmission in Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Cameroon and the Syrian Arab Republic.
Three of these 10 countries – Pakistan, Cameroon and the Syrian Arab Republic – were identified as places that had exported the wild polio virus, to other countries this year.
Mrs. Bullock-DuCasse said Jamaica’s activities regarding the polio outbreak will include the immunization of the population and the introduction of special measures, which will require persons travelling to the affected countries to receive a booster dose of oral polio vaccine before leaving the island.
With regards to the 2014 Hurricane Season, Mrs. Bullock-DuCasse said the Health Ministry continues to work assiduously to ensure that all four regional health authorities, 13 health departments, 25 hospitals, and over 300 health centres have a trained core to respond to all critical emergencies.
She said there are also written plans in place for all the various departments within the health sector.
The National Disaster Committee Meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, was attended by representatives from a number of public and private sector organisations involved in disaster mitigation.
This included the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM); the National Works Agency (NWA); the Ministries of Health; Local Government and Community Development; and Labour and Social Security; the Jamaica Fire Brigade; the National Solid Waste and Management Authority (NSWMA); and the National Meteorological Service.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker