PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Saturday January 30, 2016 – No cases of the Zika virus have surfaced in Trinidad and Tobago, but Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh has declared a national public health emergency as a result of the threat of the virus, even as the World Health Organization (WHO) is yet to determine whether to declare an international emergency.
He said that stance was being taken because of the spread of the virus across more than 20 countries in the Americas. With the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is responsible for spreading Zika, in the twin-island republic, the minister added, its arrival was inevitable.
Deyalsingh made the announcement on Friday, a day after the WHO said its chief Margaret Chan would convene a meeting of the organization’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee tomorrow to determine whether the Zika outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern.
“Be that as it may I, as Minister of Health, am declaring a national public health emergency…I have already set up a Rapid Response Unit to treat with Zika and to treat with the Aedes aegypti mosquito,” Deyalsingh said at a media conference on Friday.
Under the initiative, the Ministries of Local Government and National Security and other State agencies that have a stake in environmental concerns will collaborate to increase fogging, spraying and dissemination of information to the public. Soldiers will assist in this regard.
“The ministry of national security will be providing logistical support on the ground in terms of vehicles and in terms of people to assist the vector control department and in putting boots on the ground to knock door-to-door, to assist in fogging and spraying. But the main responsibility for members of the Defence Force would be to disseminate information,” Deyalsingh explained.
Over 51,000 homes have already been fogged and sprayed, and the minister said that number will increase significantly in coming weeks.
“That is what we have been doing in one cycle. We intend to ramp this up significantly because the enemy which we are fighting is one which hides and one which is ubiquitous throughout our environment,” the minister.
Deyalsingh added that while the government works to manage the threat, the public also has a part to play in reducing the population of mosquitoes and preventing bites. He urged them to take measures such as: disposing of all unwanted containers/items that may collect water; covering water barrels, drums or buckets with a tight fitted lid; keeping drains and guttering clean; emptying and scrubbing the sides of water vases; wearing clothing to cover their arms and legs; applying insect repellent to exposed skin; and sleeping under a mosquito net.
The declaration of a public health emergency has been criticized by former health minister Dr Fuad Khan, who said it would create unnecessary panic in the country.