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In a wonderful demonstration of a random act of kindness, energetic activist and sometime blogger, Susan Goffe (@suezeecue), has kindly written about a mosquito-borne scourge that is affecting the Americas in a major way. Her zeal has kept public awareness high on range of issues, both in detailing the events but also putting the issues into policy context. Thank you, Susan!
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Six months ago, most Jamaicans had never heard of the Zika virus. If we had, we thought of it as ChikV & dengue’s little cousin, a mild virus with symptoms that didn’t rise to the level of these more debilitating diseases. If we had been through the terrible Chikungunya virus/ChikV epidemic that swept Jamaica in 2014, we certainly didn’t need to worry much about Zika. Then in the final months of 2015, the news began to emerge from Brazil about the increased numbers of babies being born with microcephaly during the outbreak of Zika there. Like the rest of the region, Jamaica began to pay more attention to this mild disease. On January 18, the Ministry of Health issued an advisory recommending that women delay pregnancy for 6 to 12 months, the usefulness of which was questioned in a country in which more than 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. On January 26, the first case of Zika was confirmed, that of a 4-year-old child, who had returned earlier that month from a trip to Texas, USA. The timing indicated, however, that the child had been infected in Jamaica, rather than in Texas. Then, rather inexplicably, there were no more confirmed cases for 7 weeks, after which 5 more cases were confirmed over the course of a few days.

This week, two more cases were confirmed, bringing the total so far to 8. Jamaica’s chief epidemiologist reiterated this week that between 50-70% of the population are expected to become infected with Zika, though only 20-25% of those who are infected will show symptoms. She said that already there may be far more than 8 cases of Zika in Jamaica and that those being seen in health facilities will represent only the tip of the iceberg (or is that the probe of the mosquito?). She reminded pregnant women that it is important to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

The Ministry of Health’s Director for Disaster Management noted that once Zika is here, it is here to stay, that like ChikV and dengue, it will become endemic. This means that our focus must be on reducing the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the main insect spreader for Zika, and the most effective way of doing this is not by fogging, but by getting rid of the breeding sites. The virology lab at University of the West Indies (Mona) is now certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) to test for Zika, the only lab with this certification in the English-speaking Caribbean, other than CARPHA in Trinidad. This means that we can get test results far more quickly now, allowing for public health measures to be implemented rapidly in communities where cases are confirmed. It is ironic, though, that while scientists around the world rush to develop a vaccine, and while there is talk about using genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce the Aedes aegypti population, the advice being given is really time-tested advice that has been with us for generations. Reduce breeding sites and avoid being bitten. Mosquito nets, for example, are making a comeback, as well as the routine checks around our homes for standing water in which mosquito larvae may be found.

It is ironic, though, that while scientists around the world now rush to develop a vaccine (even though the virus was discovered in the late-1940s), and while there is talk about using genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce the Aedes aegypyti population, the advice being given is really time-tested advice that has been with us for generations: reduce breeding sites and avoid being bitten. Mosquito nets, for example, are making a comeback, as well as the routine checks around our homes for standing water in which mosquito larvae may be found.

Jamaica has had the Aedes aegypti mosquito for hundreds of years; the first recorded outbreak of yellow fever (also transmitted by this mosquito) was in 1655. When it was realized, hundreds of years later, how the dreaded yellow fever was transmitted, mosquito eradication became the focus, and in the first decade of the 20th century, the last cases of yellow fever were recorded in Jamaica. Although Zika doesn’t have anything like the mortality rate of yellow fever, the association with birth defects in babies and with Guillain-Barre Syndrome are of great concern and an additional reason for us in Jamaica to once again ramp up our anti-mosquito measures. After all, “Wi nuh waan ZikV!”

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No story in 2016 seems as zany as the events surrounding the death of ‘Timmy’ (aka Roosevelt Thomas). He was the man alleged to have killed his 3-year-old daughter, went into hiding, then surrendered himself to the police in Montego Bay. We then heard he’d escaped during questioning, by jumping through a window, while handcuffed, landing on the road some 15-20 feet below, and then leaving ‘breathless’ police officers in his wake as he escaped. What?!?!

Joke as I will, did we just discover a branch of super humans on our north coast? Who could this Ras Spiderman be? Leap buildings at a single bound?

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From where did ‘Timmy’ get those powers?

 

The Jamaica Constabulary Force have a credibility problem. It seems to be oblivious of what that is, or knows but chooses to just row on blithely. Yesterday, a spokesman, SSP McGregor recounted on the radio how the man had escaped. He added that the man had fallen on some awning, before landing on a passerby, then hitting the street. He noted that the story had been met with skepticism. You don’t say!

This story should be shopped to Hollywood and used to put juice into our claims to be supporting ‘creative industries’.

Jamaica is known to practice ‘jungle’ or ‘vigilante’ justice, especially when heinous crimes are concerned. So, a man ‘escaping’ who is later found killed is not so surprising. Accidents happen, but they are avoidable. Deliberately ‘setting the bait’ is not nice. However…

Part of the lack of public belief is how after many mishaps little seems to change to stop them happening. Is that willful neglect? The fact that all this took place at Barnett Street raises many eyebrows. Remember Mario Deane, who was alleged to have been killed there by fellow inmates, but six police officers on duty at the time have since been indicted. That spurred the Ministry of National Security to issue new guidelines about the care and protection of arrangements for the ‘care and protection of persons in police custody‘.

Timmy’s miracle escape spurred a critical editorial in today’s Gleaner, entitled ‘A Stench From Barnett Street‘, which speaks for itself. As it notes, this series of ‘unfortunate’ events is associated with many other police stations in Jamaica:

We hear little of the outcomes of the internal investigations that the constabulary’s bosses announce at the time of these embarrassing episodes. No one knows if anyone is ever held to account, which should include the regional line managers and the top bosses themselves? For the whole thing reeks of incompetence – or worse.

When police high command ask for the help of the public in their ‘fight’ against crime do they really believe that they have done much to create public trust?

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