BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday March 10, 2016 – Mapping an integrated Caribbean response to serious regional threats, such as the Zika virus, was the focus of a group of global experts at a symposium organized by the Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI).
About 70 delegates, including a newly commissioned UWI Regional Task Force on Zika, met in Barbados to hammer out new ways to harmonize the Caribbean’s response to the Zika virus and other public health emergencies.
The symposium brought together a diverse range of stakeholders, including government ministers, top regional academics and researchers from various disciplines, high-level public sector officials, leading health care professionals, and regional inter-governmental agency representatives.
On February 10, just days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a “public health emergency of international significance”, the Task Force was appointed by The UWI Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles to harness the university’s extensive knowledge base and multidisciplinary research capacity, as powerful tools in the fight against the growing threat. It is chaired by Deputy Principal of The UWI Cave Hill campus and experienced medical researcher, Professor Clive Landis.
“The point of this Task Force is not to just fight Zika,” Landis reminded delegates during the final session of the two-day symposium.
He explained that it was intended to consider Zika, not in isolation, but as one of several present and future high-level health threats confronting the region.
An outbreak of the Chikungunya virus swept sharply through the Caribbean in 2014, and the 2009 variant of H1N1 virus, known as Swine Flu, is now endemic in the region. Professor Landis noted the Task Force was part of the University’s effort to assist Caribbean nations to coalesce their separate national health emergency response plans into a more collaborative, regional, interdisciplinary and sustained approach.
Among the Task Force’s immediate scope are establishing a laboratory molecular testing for Zika at The UWI and various outreach activities.
Aside from the Symposium, public awareness includes engaging the public to profile and eliminate mosquito breeding sites based on the latest research on Aedes behaviour and adaptation, as well as managing a communications hub (www.uwi.ed/zika) to provide updates and helpful resources on Zika in the Caribbean.
Other more long-term response initiatives involve conducting research on the health impact in the Caribbean, surveillance and reporting of the epidemic’s trends and cases, strengthening outbreak preparedness and conducting research on the social and economic impact analysis of the virus.
The 12-member Task Force includes: economist Professor Winston Moore; medical researcher Professor Surujpal Teelucksingh, infectious disease epidemiologist Angela Mc Rose, environmental health researcher Professor Dave Chadee, medical researcher Professor John Lindo, infectious disease pediatrician Celia Christie-Samuels, social policy analyst Dr Glenford Howe, Head of the UWI Open Campus in St. Lucia Dr Veronica Simon, UWI Pro Vice-Chancellor for Graduate Studies and Research Professor Dale Webber, virologist at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Holland Eric van Gorp, and The UWI Director of Marketing and Communications Dr Dawn-Marie De Four Gill.