The way the government is handling the Chikungungya outbreak continues to mystify. The latest count puts the official diagnosis of cases at 31 (and 251 suspected cases). This cannot be right. Everywhere you go, people are discussing how either they have ChikV or they know someone who has it. I know of at least a dozen people who have it, including a baby.
True, they have not had it confirmed by blood test, but as a Gleaner columnist pointed out yesterday, the test can cost up to $150. Many of the people who have it reside in the rural parish of St. Thomas, where they likely cannot afford it. (A Jamaica Observer story revealed last week that close to 200 students were absent and 25 per cent of teachers due to the illness). Also, what is the incentive for someone to pay for a test to confirm what they already know- that they are suffering? (If it is so necessary for the government to collect this information, then they should absorb the cost.) Treatment is the same whether it is the flu, dengue or chikv, as far as I can tell.
According to a rumour circulating, one person with the disease flew to Jamaica from St. Maarten, which is how it initially spread. They visited the small town of Trinityville in St. Thomas and it caught on from there. I have also heard that people are afraid that it is now not only being spread by mosquitos, but through human contact. I have also heard that if you drink tea made from dried papaya leaves, you can rid your system of it immediately. Why am I repeating rumours and speculation? I wouldn’t normally, but I do so to prove a point: people are not informed properly (and why should they be experts in such diseases, this is the government’s job), so stories spread like the virus itself: with speed and stealth.
I have many more questions: Is it at epidemic levels? I don’t know, but it seems to be. There is little in the way of education or help from the government. Although as fellow blogger Emma revealed last week, the Ministry of Health has finally issued a number for people to call regarding the illness. And the Minister of Health addressed Parliament regarding the issue last week. (I can’t find anything official on its web site, however, it did discuss the issue with the Observer last week. In addition, Minister Ferguson wrote a column in the Observer.)
Why does the government seem so obsessed with officially confirming the number of cases? If it is not chikv, then it is dengue, or a severe flu. In all cases, a statement regarding how people should prevent and treat whatever ailment it could be is necessary. (I understand the need to confirm cases in order to stave off mass panic. I imagine there are also reasons related to funding in terms of declaring a pandemic or epidemic, but I am not an expert in this area, of course. This could explain the government’s reluctance, but again, more communication, would be better.)
Why is the government not consistently fogging? The parish of St. Thomas (where it originated) was only partly fogged (I was actually caught up in one of the giant clouds when they were doing it, so I can confirm that they did in fact fog, but not the entire area.)
Unfortunately, it appears there isn’t much you can do to prevent it, other than traditional methods like covering up and using repellent (which is flying off the shelves). And once you are infected, you can only get rest, take acetaminophen and drink fluids to alleviate the severe pain. But I also wonder, should the government provide information as to what vulnerable populations (the sick, elderly and children) should do if they catch it? Are they at more risk? An alarming story from the Dominican Republic reveals that 109 babies have died and 500,000 people are affected.
To conclude, here is the World Health Organization’s web site on the virus. It seems to be the best place to go right now for information.