Chikungunya virus outbreak in Jamaica takes toll on education system

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KINGSTON, Jamaica, Monday September 29, 2014, CMC – The Jamaica government has acknowledged that the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus is taking a toll on the country’s education system with reports of a significant increase in student and teacher absenteeism.

While unable to give exact figures, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, said schools in the Corporate Area and eastern parishes were the most affected.

“There have been significant absences from schools. We encourage schools to give as much information to students on how they should react to symptoms. And that schools should join in national cleanup efforts to ensure that breeding spaces for mosquitoes are all curtailed,” Thwaites said.

He said individual schools will have to put measures in place to prevent any major fallout in the administering of classes due to the outbreak.

Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson in a nationwide radio and television address on Sunday night called for a national response to efforts to tackle the outbreak the virus spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito and with the telltale signs of the illness, including joint pain so severe it can be hard to walk.

He said whole scale support is needed as the authorities fine-tune strategies to destroy mosquito breeding sites.

“I urge you to take at least 10 minutes each week and look around your home, workplace, to ensure that there is no uncovered containers that can breed mosquitoes. I implore every citizen to join us when we declare a national cleanup day.

The health minister also expressed concern about the impact the disease is having on productivity.

“We ask employers to be compassionate and assist their staff through this difficult period. We expect that the health workforce will also be impacted and so we are putting in place an emergency response plan to ensure that we can continue to provide care to the population.

Ferguson added that Chikungunya cases are expected to spike.

“It is important to note that the expectation is for chikungunya cases to spike and then trend down as persons begin to build immunity to this new disease.”
He said the spread of the virus was expected and that it was “normal” for new diseases.

This was the Health Minister’s first address to the nation since the virus hit Jamaica. The address was comes amid criticism of the Government’s handling of the outbreak.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) spokesman on Health, Dr Kenneth Baugh, said he welcomes the admission by the government that there is a Chikungunya epidemic.
But Dr Baugh noted that while the Minister has finally confronted the seriousness of the issue, he did not address several things.

“It was unfortunate that his presentation ignored the fact that a lot of pharmacies are out of stock of the basic medications needed to address symptoms. He needs to make urgent provisions for this. Related to this point is the fact that the Minister also did not address the matter of budgetary provisions,” Dr. Baugh said urging the Dr. Ferguson to promptly announce details regarding the emergency command centre, including the location, telephone number and the skill sets that will be mobilized there.

The Trinidadian-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has said the Chikunguyna virus has reached epidemic proportions in the Caribbean and that many more cases will be recorded in the coming months.

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