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Ministry of Health issues Zika Virus Disease update

In February 2016, the Director General of the World Health Organization declared the Zika Virus outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” due the significant long-term complications associated with it. This facilitated an urgent and coordinated response from the world.

At the fifth meeting of the Emergency Committee on Zika, microcephaly and other neurological disorders convened on November 18, 2016 by the Director General under the International Health Regulations (IHR2005), it was decided that the Zika Virus and the complications associated with it remain a significant, long-term public health challenge but no longer represent a “public health emergency of international concern.” It is believed that a longer term technical mechanism is needed to facilitate a coordinated global response to manage the Zika Virus and its complications.

The Emergency Committee discussed the updated information on the Zika Virus: its spread, epidemiology, microcephaly and other neo-natal complications with the Zika Virus, Guillan Barre Syndrome and the current knowledge on sexual transmission of Zika Virus. Based on this information, the Emergency Committee recommended that the response be escalated into a sustained work programme with resources dedicated to address the long-term complications of the disease.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness in conjunction with partners in health, tourism, public and private sectors and civil society groups, has implemented and continues to engage in a number of initiatives to decrease the impact of Zika Virus Disease on the population. These measures include but are not limited to: increased surveillance system for Zika Virus and its complications, health education and promotion to the public, health care worker training (both local and regional), strengthening of primary and secondary health care system to manage the increase in cases and prepare for possible complications, extensive island-wide clean-up campaigns with support from community groups, extensive inter-ministry stakeholder consultations, antenatal clinical strengthening, environmental health strengthening to include “fogging”, increased awareness by collaboration with Ministry of Education for the school poster competition, participation in regional initiatives such “Vector Awareness Week” with the OECS and “Mosquito Awareness Week” with CARPHA and PAHO and continuous consultations with regional public health partners.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness will continue working to strengthen surveillance, strengthen primary and secondary care facilities and increase collaboration between community partners to reduce the impact of the Zika Virus on our people.

The Zika Virus Disease is spread predominantly by mosquitoes, particularly those which breed in and around households. Therefore, individuals and members of their households are important in the ongoing national efforts to reduce the transmission of Zika. This can be achieved by householders conducting weekly inspections of their premises, both inside and outside, to identify and remove any items which can hold water, thereby increasing the possibility of mosquito breeding.

The Ministry of Health also reminds the public that personal protection to avoid mosquito bites is an effective prevention strategy to reduce the spread of the disease. By wearing long, light coloured clothing and using mosquito repellents as recommended by the manufacturers and use of mosquito screens and nets, the chances of being exposed to the Zika virus can be minimized.

For more information, please contact the office of the Chief Medical Officer at telephone number 468-5309 or Bureau of Health Promotion at 468-5349.

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