The Caribbean is tackling the mosquito-borne Zika Virus on many fronts in an attempt to safeguard the upcoming tourist season.
The Caribbean Regional Public Health Agency, known as CARPHA, is heading the charge and stressing the need to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds.
Saint Lucia, an island nation with a population of around 175,000, has no confirmed cases of Zika, but the country's chief medical officer says health officials are concerned about the potential impact on pregnant women if the virus reaches its shores.
“It can have some unwanted effects, particularly on the unborn child in pregnant women and sometimes after persons have recovered, the paralysis it can cause," said Dr. Merlene Fredericks. "It is important for us to continue taking the same precautions that we took for Dengue Fever and for Chikungunya. Ensure that we get rid of the mosquito breeding places."
To date, Zika has been confirmed in five of the 15-member countries of the Caribbean Community.
Saint Lucia's National Health Security Committee met this week to review the Zika threat to the country, with the committee's head explaining that the goal is also to protect the fragile tourism industry.
“With the threat of Zika, the tourism sector began feeling the impact of it because we had certain levels of cancellations and once tourism is impacted the economy will similarly be impacted,” said Cabinet Secretary Darrel Montrope.
On Thursday, the Council of Health Ministers of the 9-country Organization of Eastern Caribbean States issued a statement declaring that member states do not intend to take the Zika threat lightly.
According to the statement, “acknowledging the OECS to be a single health and economic space and considering the impact of concerns over a possible Zika outbreak, the OECS Ministers of Health have agreed to a harmonized approach, involving leadership at the highest level, engagement at the widest community level, coupled with partnership from national, regional and international agencies to address the challenge.”
The ministers said their promised coordinated effort to tackle Zika will include: country-wide campaigns to eradicate mosquito breeding sites; partnerships with the tourism industry to promote measures to prevent all mosquito-borne illnesses among residents and visitors; and robust vector and disease surveillance, including premises inspection in areas of high population density.
CARPHA representatives are expected to present a policy brief on the Zika Virus at the Intersessional Meeting of Caribbean Community heads of government Feb. 16 in Belize.