Jamaica’s Chikungunya Epidemic

Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus

“Chikungunya virus is most often spread to people by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. These are the same mosquitoes that transmit dengue virus. They bite mostly during the daytime.”–CDC photo

After months of denial of the scope of a chikungunya outbreak in Jamaica, and with several deaths related to the virulent illness, the government has begun to take some action that many, including the opposition Labour Party (JLP,) believe is too little too late.

In an ironic twist, it was the prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller and not the health minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, who on October 14, announced a J$500-million ($J1=US$0.009) drive when she summoned a meeting of elected members of parliament (MPs) and local government parish councillors to address “the measures being taken by the Government to respond to the current public health emergencies as a result of: 1. The continuing spread of the Chikungunya Virus … and .. [t]he global threat of the Ebola Virus.”

There are no real figures as to how many Jamaicans are infected with the chikungunya (pronunciation: \chik-en-gun-ye) virus, but at least three high school students,a  teacher and two elderly people in different parts of the island have died from suspected  cases of chik-V as it is colloquially known.

While Chik-V whirred around the Eastern Caribbean territories, not much was done to protect the public, except a few mosquito fogging visits to some areas.

Jamaica's Minister of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson.

Jamaica’s Minister of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson.–official photo

At the start of October, the health minister was saying there were only 35 cases of chik-V.

The day Simpson Miller announced the plan, the local media reported Ferguson as saying that while he was taking precautions against contracting the chik-V, he would he like to contract the disease because “as a leader he would like to experience what the people are experiencing.”

He subsequently left for Cuba to get advice on how to deal with the threat of Ebola.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “[t]he most common symptoms of chikungunya virus infection are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. Outbreaks have occurred in countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In late 2013, chikungunya virus was found for the first time in the Americas on islands in the Caribbean. There is a risk that the virus will be imported to new areas by infected travelers. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus infection. Travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites. When traveling to countries with chikungunya virus, use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens.”

Simpson Miller’s belated chick-v response got limited endorsement from the JLP, and some sneeringly say it’s because it reeks of the pork barrel patronage politics that rules Jamaica. About $180 million of the total announced goes directly to the 14 parishes and 60-odd MPs, based not on identified need nor size but equal rationing.

This allocation suggests that on the eve of a general election year, it’s likely make-work such as roadside and vacant lot de-bushing jobs that will be given to loyal party supporters desperate under the burden of a stagnant economy that predates the 2007 global meltdown and an International Monetary Fund loan program to “fix” the economy–the real chik-V of the entire population.

     

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