Image courtesy CARPHA

CARPHA, the Caribbean Public Health Agency, is reminding the public of ensuring that everything is done to reduce the likelihood of mosquito-borne diseases rearing their heads during the current COVID-19 pandemic, as the region observes Caribbean Mosquito Awareness Week 2021.

CARPHA’s Executive Director, Dr Joy St. John, notes the region cannot afford to relax its vigilance over these diseases.

“During the last quarter of 2020, several CARPHA Member States reported localised outbreaks of Dengue, a mosquito borne disease, which placed an even greater burden on national health systems already engaged in managing the pandemic,” she reports.

“Moving forward in 2021, we must all play our part in the prevention and control of mosquito borne diseases in order to maintain our health and wellbeing, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.

Head of Vector Borne Diseases at CARPHA, Dr Laura-Lee Boodram, warns the potential for outbreaks to occur and the introduction of new mosquito borne diseases in the Caribbean region is an ever-present threat.

“The Aedes aegypti mosquito is a major vector, which spreads diseases such as Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika. These diseases can be a significant cause of illness and even death, impacting countries negatively on an economic and social level,” Dr Boodram said.

She added: “The introduction into the Caribbean Region of Chikungunya in 2014 and Zika in 2016, respectively, together with the presence of competent vectors such as Aedes aegpyti, means that constant vigilance must be maintained.”

Image courtesy CARPHA

Caribbean Mosquito Awareness week (CMAW) was declared in November 2014 at the 17th Special Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government on Public Health Threats. CMAW is held annually in May and is an important reminder to the general public to take action to reduce their risk to diseases spread by mosquitoes.

In 2021, CARPHA’s CMAW slogan states, “Tiny…but DEADLY. Don’t wait…ERADICATE!”, placing emphasis on measures to control mosquito breeding.  The organisation is urging regional governments to undertake more initiatives on mosquito awareness in communities, and to intensify vector control activities.

Senior Technical Officer for Vector Borne Diseases at CARPHA, Rajesh Ragoo, reminds the public that as the rainy season approaches, water can accumulate in the base of plants pots, vases, buckets and used vehicles tires, which are typical breeding sites.  He says an increase in vector populations will further the risk of disease transmission.

“The best way to “fight the bite” around homes and communities, is to ensure that our surroundings are clean and free of materials or containers that can accumulate water,” he recommends. “Water storage drums and tanks should also be properly covered and inspected periodically to ensure that there is no breeding.”

He adds: “It is also important to minimize individual exposure to mosquito bites. Vulnerable groups such as infants, young children, older adults and women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant are at greater risk. Personal protective measures, including the wearing of long-sleeved clothing and the use of insect repellents, are strongly recommended.”

CARPHA works in conjunction with Member States and various International Development Partners on strategies to prevent and control mosquito borne diseases in the Caribbean Region.

In late 2019, CARPHA entered into a grant agreement with the European Union (EU), which supports regional prevention and control efforts against mosquito borne diseases. Focus is placed on strengthening Member State disease surveillance systems and vector control operations, expanding community engagement, public health education and increasing partnerships and collaborations to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with mosquito borne diseases.