Chikungunya and Ebola; The Hard Truth

It often takes extreme circumstances for warring factions to bury their hatches and turn their swords into ploughshares. One good example of this is the coalition that US President Barack Obama is trying to assemble, to fight the extremist Islamist group known as ISIS.

Some of the countries that have committed to the coalition, even if their commitment amounts to little more than sending best wishes and no soldiers to the frontlines, veritably hate one another, and have divergent Middle East interests.

Here in Grenada, political parties, NGOs and other groups that often do not see eye to eye, may also be constrained to work together with the onset of illnesses such as the Chikungunya virus. Illnesses and diseases are equal-opportunity killers; they do not discriminate on the basis of political affiliation, place of residence or socio-economic status.

For those of us who have fallen ill with Chikungunya, we know the excruciating pain. We know the inconvenience of being confined to bed, almost helpless. Chikungunya has claimed just over 100 fatalities region-wide and we are saddened by such an outcome.

Thanks be to God, however, most of us have survived Chikungunya, or are in recovery. But regional health officials are cautioning that we must remain on guard. And, we at Caribupdate Weekly also suggest that we pool our resources across all sectors to deal not just with Chikungunya; but, as well, with a potential threat that is far worse – and more deadly – than Chikungunya. That’s the Ebola virus.

The Caribbean, thus far, has had no reported cases of Ebola, which has taken the lives of over 2,400 West Africans.

Peter Piot is one of the scientists who first identified the Ebola virus in 1976. He’s now Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and writes for Eurosurveillance, a publication of the European Centre for Disease.

“Ebola cannot be ignored in the hope it will burn itself out,” Piot said in a Eurosurveillance editorial he co-wrote with colleague Adam Kucharski. Stronger control measures are needed to stop the transmission of Ebola, Piot and Kucharski said.

A modelling study published in Eurosurveillance projects that, if the growth in cases continues at its current pace, under a worst-case scenario there could be another 77,000 to 277,000 Ebola cases by the end of the year.

Many countries, recognising the devastating impact Ebola could have globally, have sent healthcare workers to West Africa. The United States, for example, in addition to more than $100 million in assistance, has dispatched troops and other personnel to Africa as part of what it calls “Operation United Assistance.”

“Here’s the hard truth,” said President Obama. “In West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before. It’s spiraling out of control.” He added: “We can’t dawdle on this one. We have to move with force and make sure that we are catching this as best we can, given that it has already broken out in ways that we have not seen before.”

Interestingly, the idea of a united effort was also echoed this week in Jamaica by Dr Alfred Dawes. He’s president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association and he was commenting on Jamaica’s own challenges to prevent the population falling sick to the Chikungunya virus.

But, Dr Dawes dislikes what he sees as the “politicising” in combating Chikungunya, involving members of the ruling People’s National Party and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party. “Closer collaboration,” he says, “between the parish councils, ministry of health and Jamaicans from all walks of life, in clearing drains and other breeding sites of the mosquito, is needed”.

The doctor’s appeal is valid for Jamaica as it is for Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and other Caribbean nations.

If we don’t work as one to combat Chikungunya, we could be opening the door to something far worse that would make Chikungunya look like a walk at Progress Park, Queen’s Park or Sabina Park.

Source:  Caribupdate Weekly, Editorial

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