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Feb 16, 2016

CARICOM Heads of Government Discuss Threat of Zika Virus

The looming threat of the Zika virus and its potential impact on the Caribbean was the subject of a presentation earlier today, before an audience of CARICOM heads of government in Placencia.  While microcephaly and other disorders affecting the nervous system are possibly linked to the spread of the mosquito-borne disease, Zika has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.  As such, the Caribbean Public Health Agency, CARPHA, is leading the charge regionally to raise awareness on the potential impact of Zika on the travel and tourism industries.  Most Caribbean economies, including Belize, are highly dependent on tourism which increases the risk of regional spread.  This morning, Doctor James Hospedales, Executive Director of CARPHA, emphasized the need for a coordinated regional response to Zika.

 

Dr. James Hospedales, Executive Director, CARPHA

“This is a mosquito-borne virus which the Aedes Aegypti mosquito transmits the same Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue.  So from the time last year that we realized that this was a potential risk to the region, the first thing we did was step up the monitoring mechanisms that we have to try to detect it early if it comes in the different countries.  Getting out a lot of public information and education, particularly to stop mosquito breeding and stop mosquito biting, especially if you’re a pregnant mom and especially if you’re an older folk with a lot of chronic health problems, you don’t want to get one of these viral diseases.  Scaling up the laboratory testing available to member states, coordinating the responses.  A lot of different agencies are wanting to work with us in the Caribbean islands so that’s part of our role.  So enhancing the surveillance and rapid research, the laboratory testing, the coordination functions, the public information functions, those are some of the major pieces of the plan for responding to the threat of this mosquito-borne virus Zika.”

 

James Hospedales

Isani Cayetano

“In terms of detection, I know that in other parts of the region there have been cases of Zik.  In terms of within the Caribbean itself, what has the response to that or the detection been like?”

 

Dr. James Hospedales

“We have five CARICOM countries where Zika has been detected and a number of other Caribbean countries, non-CARICOM, including Puerto Rico and St. Maarten.  I think I’ve seen all the member states in the region really intensify their public information, their vector control and trying to get ahead of the curve where this is concerned.  Suriname, which was the earliest country to be affected, I know from working with them that they are very, very active in trying to educate and deal with the vector and reduce the risk to their population.  So the detection triggers a number of other responses in the plan.”

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