EDITORIAL: Fighting Zika
Thu, 08/11/2016 - 12:00am
OVER the last few months there has been little talk in this country about Zika from the authorities and the public. It was almost as if Barbados was untouched, while the rest of the world battled the virus which is seemingly harmless unless one is pregnant or seeking to get pregnant.
Then a few days ago the Ministry of Health (MOH) issued a statement through the Government Information Service, reminding Barbadians that it is the rainy season and they should take certain precautions to avoid mosquito bites. And then on Tuesday we heard the devastating news that two babies were born with Microcephaly. Immediately everyone’s minds turned to the issue of Zika once again, and though there has been no confirmation that the mothers of the babies who were born with the birth defect, were ever infected with Zika, it shocked us back to reality.
But it may be some time before the doctors at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) complete their investigations to determine whether the birth defects are linked to the Zika virus, or some other infection the mothers developed during pregnancy. If proven to be Zika related, it will no doubt require that greater focus is placed on reducing the risk of further birth defects occurring, especially given that the birth rates in this country have already dropped.
Now the health authorities reported that there have been 14 pregnant women diagnosed with Zika, of which seven have already given birth and none of those babies carried the debilitating condition. As neither case of Microcephaly was being monitored as a Zika case by the high-risk antenatal clinic at the QEH, they may just be among the cases of Microcephaly that are usually reported annually. But one also has to remember that Zika is a virus that does not always manifest the known symptoms of fever, rash, conjunctivitis, temporary arthritis and headache. They say only one in five persons will have symptoms.
That reality makes it very hard to identify all the cases that the country has seen. It means in fact, that there may be more persons infected with the virus than the authorities are aware of. We therefore call on the relevant authorities to step up surveillance, especially as the rains increase, so as to ensure that the prime breeding sites of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito are eliminated. Certainly, the MOH must also step up its fogging programme across the island to lessen the mosquitoes’ chances of survival and new solutions should also be sought.
There is also a need for robust public education programmes to ensure that women of child-bearing age are aware of the potential dangers of contracting the virus and what precautions should be taken to prevent or reduce the risk of infection.
We have all seen or heard the reports from Florida where Zika is wreaking havoc. Bustling arts and tourism areas have almost overnight become like ghost towns, and obviously it is impacting the economy. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has issued unprecedented travel warning for some areas, and officials have been calling on Congress for much-needed funds to fight the virus.
Barbados can learn from what is happening in the US and ensure that it does not find itself in a similar position, with Zika cases and fear markedly on the rise. Neither our tourism nor economy can afford it. As a small country, the red tape associated with getting funds to fight Zika does not exist; Government only needs to seek a supplementary. But the fight is not only Government’s, nationals and residents of Barbados must also play their part.