Prime Minister Gaston Browne (fourth left) chairs a Cabinet meeting to discuss the zika virus
ST JOHN’S, Antigua -- Twelve government officials and two managers from a regional airline were invited to Cabinet on Friday to address the challenge posed by the zika virus, and the implementation of the national plan of defence, which the Antigua and Barbuda government articulated a week ago.
The outbreak of the zika virus in the hemisphere has generated a great deal of anxiety throughout the Caribbean and the Americas, since the virus threatens to undermine development, while causing many families great distress. The zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that is very much like dengue; it is painful to the joints, causes high fever, and can even cause its victims to suffer paralysis or death.
However, one of the most prevalent and disastrous consequence of contracting the Zika virus is a severe birth defect that causes babies to be born with a smaller than usual brain -- a defect called microcephaly.
The 12 government officials participating in the meeting included the permanent secretary in the ministry of health, the director of education, the chief health inspector, other high ranking officials from the ministry of health and the ministry of education, a superintendent of the Royal Police Force, a major of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force, and other high-ranking government members were all present in Cabinet.
The complexity of the plan to fight the Aedes aegypti mosquito involves examination of all 85 schools across the country, including Barbuda; wherever water accumulates in places on school compounds that allow the mosquitoes to lay their eggs and to breed, the chief health inspector advises that the conditions have begun to be addressed. All school principals will be holding a meeting one day early next week to improve on the plans for defending against the mosquito virus at their workplaces, and to lessen the chance of students being bitten by mosquitoes.
Abandoned vehicles -- parked along the streets and in communities, serving as an attraction for breeding mosquitoes -- are also to be removed after giving notice to the owners. Strewn garbage along the nation’s highways, serving as water-collection items within which mosquitoes lay eggs, will also continue to be removed; and, those who throw garbage from their vehicles, especially bottles and other containers that collect water, will be prosecuted when caught.
“What I am imploring you the technicians to do at this time is to be proactive, move swiftly to implement every measure and take every precaution necessary to stop this virus from entering Antigua and Barbuda. Use every means to mobilise the entire population in this effort. Our economy and the health of our people must be protected,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the technicians.
The fear of the disease-bearing Aedes aegypti mosquito has caused the Cabinet to move to allow mosquito screens and bed nets, and mosquito coils and repellents, to enter into Antigua and Barbuda free of duties and other taxes. The Cabinet has acted to lower the cost of the mosquito defensive systems so that all homeowners can afford these devices and materials in their homes.
Although the disease has not reached anyone in Antigua, travel from islands where there are sick people, bitten by diseased mosquitoes, is a threat to national security. The minister of health invited LIAT executives, which included its CEO David Evans, to provide advice to the Cabinet, in an attempt to reduce the probability of regional spread by passengers. The LIAT officials indicated that they have been in touch with JetBlue Airlines and are already following the policy choices announced by that carrier. JetBlue Airways will offer full refunds to pregnant women who prefer not to travel to places where the virus is present.
This virus is more easily spread than Ebola, and can affect many more people because of the vector which transmits it, the Cabinet was told. The fight to eradicate or to significantly reduce the population of mosquitoes will therefore cause extra fogging to take place across the country. All the fogging vehicles will be deployed to ensure that every community, especially those where the Aedes aegypti mosquito breeds profusely, will be fogged frequently.
“This national effort requires all hands on board,” the country’s leader declared.