The threat posed by Chikungunya virus to schools and other public places of gathering is real.
From all accounts the cases of domestic Chikungunya virus have been on the increase in Jamaica with almost daily confirmations from health officials. Jamaica has had 31 confirmed cases and 251 suspected cases to date. Trinidad and Tobago has had 80 confirmed cases to date. Citizens across the Caribbean region have been advised to take a number of precautionary measures to minimize the breeding areas of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito which is responsible for transmitting this virus. The narrative for the most part has failed to adequately address government’s intervention strategies regarding the country’s school plants on the eve of the start of the new academic year.
For the most part our schools, both public and private, have been left idle for the greater part of the summer holidays and as such many of them have become potential breeding ground for the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. The seriousness of the threat posed by Chikungunya virus to schools was recently reinforced with the confirmation from the Caribbean Public Health Agency headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago of at least one case of Chikungunya at the Mona Campus, of the University of the West Indies. Most people with Chikungunya virus will develop some symptoms. Symptoms usually begin 3-7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and include fever, joint pain, rash and joint swelling.
It is very clear that coordinating government ministries and departments must work together in crafting and implementing prevention strategies to minimize the threat posed by this mosquito borne virus. Yallas Primary School in St. Thomas has experienced a significant decrease in their student population with over 200 students absent complaining about flu like symptoms. Additionally, 10 of the 40 teachers, including the principal and 2 vice principals at the school are also ill suffering from flu like symptoms. To say all is not well would be an understatement regarding the chikungunya virus which is spreading like wild fire in most communities.
With the start of the 2014/2015 academic year scheduled to begin on September 1, 2014 it should be imperative on the part of the Ministry of Health in consultation with the Education Ministry to conduct an audit of all school plants to ensure that possible breeding areas are not present. Additionally, if such breeding areas are present measures should be taken to eradicate same. This action should be a part of a wider plan of action by the government as the cases of Chikungunya virus have now been confirmed in at least seven parishes, namely, St. Catherine, St. Thomas, Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Mary, Portland and St. Ann. Our students and teachers, as well as, other stakeholders in the education system will likely be put at risk if the government does not take a proactive approach in eliminating breeding grounds for mosquitoes from in and around our educational institutions. There is also an urgent need for the Jamaican government to increase their public education campaign intervention in order to heighten the public’s awareness of the devastating impact of chikungunya virus. An ounce of prevention is always better than cure.