By Kenton X. Chance
DAKAR, Senegal (CMC) — Caribbean countries being affected by the mosquito-borne illness Zika may soon be in line for assistance after the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group Wednesday agreed to allocate resources to help fight the virus.
Zika is linked to microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with underdeveloped heads and brains.
ACP Secretary General, Patrick I. Gomes, on Wednesay told a news conference at the end of the two-day ACP Council of Ministers meeting that “on the Zika virus, an allocation is going to be made so that we can contribute to how that can be addressed because it is affecting the tourist industry, it is affecting also the conditions of health”.
He, however, said that a determination has not been made regarding how much will be allocated to fighting the virus.
“A fixed amount has not been decided as yet but that is being programmed and it will have to take into account other allocations that are being made,” Gomes said.
Speaking to the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) on the sidelines of the meeting, Jamaica’s Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson-Smith said the fight against Zika is important to the Caribbean region not just because of its impact on the tourism industry, but also the health problems that might not be obvious immediate.
She noted the link between the virus and microcephaly
“So you can’t immediately perceive the extent of the problem especially because only one on four persons would actually exhibit symptoms. So, it is only further down the line that the true scope of this problem can be ascertained. So, the important thing in the fight against Zika is prevention,” Johnson-Smith told CMC.
The Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) said the region continues to wrestle with Zika and that there has been an increase in locally-confirmed cases of Zika in countries and territories around the Caribbean.
CARPHA executive director, James Hospedales, in a video update on the virus in the Caribbean region late last month, said the problem with Zika, which was originally described as a “mild disease’ now appears to be causing an increase in two rare health situations.
He said the virus appears to be the main agent for spreading the issue of babies being born with small heads and the neurological problem called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).
“Both Guillain-Barré and microcephaly are very rare and they are not required to be reported in Caribbean countries … so there are no base line data on them,” he said, adding that CARPHA is now in the process of setting up the base liner data.
He said regarding the spread of the virus there were factors not in the region’s favour.
“We have the very susceptible population that has not met this virus before, we have widespread aedes ageypti mosquitoes, we have a lot of travel in and out of the region. There is another factor, in many of our countries in the next two months the rainy season will begin and that will increase the possibility of breeding of the mosquito,” he added.
Last month, the head of the United Nations health agency issued a new warning on the virus, saying that “the more we know the worse things look.”
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, said that in less than a year, the status of Zika has changed from “a mild medical curiosity” to a disease with severe public health implications.