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St Elizabeth grapples with dengue

Health department earns praise, but garbage collection a problem

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor at Large, South Central Bureau

Monday, October 14, 2019

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BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — The St Elizabeth Health Department was praised for its anti-dengue campaign at last Thursday's monthly meeting of the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation.

Public health workers deserved commendation for their vigilance in the drive to seek out and destroy mosquito-breeding sites, as well as educate residents on how to combat mosquitoes, Withney Smith, councillor for the Brompton Division (JLP) told the monthly meeting.

But for the efforts of the health department, the effects of the dengue outbreak in St Elizabeth would have been much worse, Smith said.

Medical officer for St Elizabeth Dr Tonia Dawkins- Beharie told the meeting that since January 2019 there have been 222 suspected cases of dengue reported in St Elizabeth.

Dr Dawkins-Beharie later told the Jamaica Observer that there was one death suspected to have been caused by the mosquito-borne disease in the south central parish this year. That was of a woman over 60 years old who died in an outlying district of the New Market Division in September. Dr Dawkins-Beharie said dengue was one of a number of conditions that could have caused her demise.

Dengue, with flu-like symptoms, and spread from person to person by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has been endemic in Jamaica since the 1970s. There have been periodic outbreaks over the last four decades. The Aedes aegypti also spreads chikungunya and Zika — with similar symptoms — which have afflicted Jamaicans within the last decade.

The government's information arm, the Jamaica Information Service, reported Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton telling Parliament last week that for the period January 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019, there were 135 suspected and confirmed dengue-related deaths in Jamaica. These included 47 cases in 2018 and 88 in 2019. There were 10 suspected deaths last month, Dr Tufton said.

At last Thursday's municipal corporation meeting in Black River, councillors made the link between uncollected garbage — which is an ongoing problem — and dengue.

The meeting was assured by Michelle Foster Vassell of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) that her agency was moving with haste to clear a huge backlog of garbage across the parish using privately contracted trucks.

She explained that garbage collection in St Elizabeth had been made more difficult since three of the six assigned publicly-owned trucks had broken down.

Heavy and persistent rain over recent weeks had also made the job of garbage collection harder, she said.

Foster Vassell said that with the help of privately contracted trucks it was expected that the backlog of garbage would be cleared up within seven days from last Friday.

She later told journalists that the area most affected was Junction and its environs in south-east St Elizabeth.

Layton Smith (PNP), councillor for the Myersville Division — which is part of the constituency of St Elizabeth South Eastern — told the meeting that earlier that morning he was among a group of residents in the New Building community collecting 60-70 bags of solid waste for collection by the trucks. He said garbage containers in his division were overflowing and there was plenty evidence of mosquito breeding.

He reminded the meeting of the recent death of a child from dengue in south Manchester, which is on the border with his division. The family of the deceased straddled both sides of the border, he said.

Mayor of Black River and chairman of the municipal corporation Derrick Sangster announced that an emergency meeting had been arranged for tomorrow with the NSWMA to discuss what he called a “crisis”. He urged that as much as possible, the NSWMA should “try and cover every road” as it seeks to clear the garbage backlog.

Dr Dawkins-Beharie said permanently employed health workers as well as approximately 100 temporary workers were spread across St Elizabeth identifying and destroying mosquito sites and seeking to educate residents.

She emphasised the need to remove solid waste (garbage) in a timely manner, as an essential part of the drive to combat dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases.

She said that the Aedes aegypti typically breeds in small quantities of fresh water in and around homes and other places where people gather — which makes garbage pile-up a haven for the insect.

Current heavy rains were tailor-made for mosquito breeding, she said. Dr Dawkins-Beharie recommended that as much as possible people use repellents and wear long-sleeved clothing to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

Common symptoms of dengue include high fever, severe headaches, pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, skin rashes and even bleeding in more extreme cases.

Health specialists say people suffering from dengue-like symptoms should be very careful in using pain-relieving medications, since some types can actually worsen the condition.

It's recommended that acetaminophen — which includes the paracetamol and tylenol brands — be used to relieve dengue-related symptoms. Aspirin or ibuprofen should not be used.


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