The works of the Insect Vector Control Unit of the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment has come under scrutiny amidst the dengue outbreak in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has claimed at least two lives and infected at least 374 people.
And even Minister of Health Senator Luke Browne has said that the unit needs to do more.
“I agree with the sentiment that insect vector control officers need to increase their patrols in communities,” Browne said in a press statement on Wednesday, one day after his ministry health a press conference on the outbreaks, which he did not attend.
The minister chose instead to visit a primary school in the constituency he is hoping to win in the next general elections to talk to students about dengue fever.
At the press conference, Shamanti Labban, acting senior environmental health officer, was put on the defensive about the work of her unit, when journalist Lyf Compton said that growing up in Mesopotamia, it was common to see vector control officer inspect homes to ensure homeowners were not breeding mosquitoes.
He said that while he no longer lives in that community, he does not see the inspectors making such checks in his current community.
“The vector control unit has not ceased operations and we continue to work with a number of communities,” Labban said, adding that officers had visited Mesopotamia recently.
Another journalist, Kenton Chance, added that during his childhood there used to be cards at homes on which vector control officers would write their findings.
He said he lives in a house that while he lives in a house that was constructed over the past 15 years, there was no such card there, and the card at a home a home in his community — Rillan Hill — had not had any interaction with anyone for years.
“Like is said, we have been working tirelessly, like every day, in several communities throughout St. Vincent,” Labban maintained.
“We also have officers in Bequia as well as in Union Island and they have been working,” she said.
A subsequent check of the card, showed that it was an “Aedes Aegypti Eradication Card”. Aedes Aegypti mosquito spreads, dengue, Chikungunya, zika and a number of other illnesses.
The card at the house that Chance had mentioned – one of the few in the community that still has one — had begun to fall to pieces, and the last entry by vector control officers was in September 2011.
Before that, officers had made entries in 2010 and 2009.
However, at the same press conference, Neri James, chief environmental health officer, confirmed that stagnant streams in the health districts with the highest numbers of cases were breeding sites for mosquitoes and his ministry was moving to address this.
Of the 374 cases of dengue confirmed in SVG up to Sept. 22, 107 cases, or 28.6%, were in the Pembroke health district, 82 (21.9%) in Kingstown, 63 (16.9%) in Georgetown and 27 (7.2%) in Calliaqua.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Harvey Farrell, a retired health educator, speaking on the opposition New Democratic Party’s radio programme, said that vector control officers used to inspect each home at least twice annually.
“I remember in the past we used to have these cards — each home had a card and you know you were getting at least two visits per year. And the thing is, if you had a problem, if they came to your house and you had a problem, they would come back before the cycle because they had to come back to make sure you took care of the problem that they identified,” said Farrell who retired from the Ministry of Health after a 35-year career in health education.
He said the nation’s public health laws need to be strengthened because when public health officers issue a warning to a homeowner, the resolution can drag on for a long time.
“And we are having problems like these — and we had an opportunity to address this when we had Chikungunya and when we had zika, that you could have strengthen the public health laws, so that if [a person] is breeding mosquitoes … the public health officer should be able to come and make sure you have that problem rectified within reasonable time. But, unfortunately, these matters drag on for a very long time sometimes,” Farrell said.
Breeding mosquitoes is against the law in SVG and Farrell suggested a ticketing system for persons found in violation.