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To counter the effects of the Aedes aegypti

Monday, February 18, 2019

Health workers should be forgiven if they have concluded that Jamaicans are an especially tough-headed people.

For decades the authorities have been striving to hammer home the point that people need to help themselves by keeping their surroundings clean and free of anything that will collect water and provide a haven for the breeding of mosquitoes.

Yet all over Jamaica people continue to carelessly toss unwanted items — including supposedly banned plastic and related containers — any and everywhere, which accommodate small pools and puddles ideal for the dreaded Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Refuse ranging from used car parts to plastic bags and styrofoam boxes end up in open lots and gullies — not only heightening the potential for deadly floods as water backs up, but also providing stagnant pools which nurture the Aedes aegypti.

That mosquito has been the bane of the Jamaican health care system even before it first spread dengue like wildfire through the previously unexposed, 'virgin' population in the 1970s.

Periodic outbreaks of dengue have been followed in recent years by chikungunya and Zika viruses, also spread by the Aedes aegypti.

Thankfully, while there may be the odd migratory case, other serious mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever were eradicated as endemic threats in Jamaica many decades ago.

We are told that up to February 8 the latest dengue outbreak had caused six deaths — all children under the age of 14. We are speaking here of deaths which have been scientifically confirmed to have been caused by dengue. Five of those deaths occurred in Kingston and St Andrew. The other was in Portland.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton is reported as having told Parliament that the largest number of suspected/presumed/confirmed dengue cases for 2019 was identified in St Catherine — 313 people. This was followed by Kingston and St Andrew with 177, St Ann 121, and St Mary 75.

According to Dr Tufton, his ministry had classified 1,166 suspected, presumed, or confirmed dengue cases with dates of onset in 2019, as against 1,023 such cases in 2018.

He sought to assure that the number of cases appeared to be levelling off, though health officials won't be certain for another few weeks.

A worldwide concern is that global warming, which experts have said is happening at an ever-increasing rate, will further facilitate the spread of mosquitoes and diseases they carry.

It's in that light that latest high-tech efforts to neuter the threat of mosquitoes should be seen. We note an article in yesterday's Sunday Observer by Dr Derrick Aarons which outlines efforts elsewhere to introduce bacteria to the Aedes aegypti to “crowd out” dengue; as well as gene modification to eliminate other diseases now spread my mosquitoes.

Such approaches are especially important since mosquitoes are said to be increasingly resilient to insecticides and the like. Furthermore, it's well established that many insecticides are also harmful to humans and the environment.

However, none of the new scientific methodologies eliminates the need for Jamaicans to do what they can as individuals, and collectively, to clean up their homes and communities and eliminate mosquito-breeding grounds. Regardless of the frustrations, the health ministry, related government agencies, local authorities, and leadership at every level must continue to encourage Jamaicans to “bun mosquito and run weh dengue”.