As cases rise, Deyalsingh, Seecheran square off: Row over dengue fever

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh – File photo by Venessa Mohammed

HEALTH Minister Terrence Deyalsingh on Sunday shot back at the Opposition’s allegations of him being negligent amid a dengue fever surge, saying his ministry’s efforts have been underway since February. Caroni East MP Dr Rishad Seecheran earlier chided Deyalsingh at a briefing at UNC headquarters in Chaguanas.

Deyalsingh, in reply via WhatsApp, said his ministry had prepared medical staff, educated the general public and worked to eradicate mosquitoes, all since February.

He sent Newsday a ministry statement, Dengue Briefing, which he had read out on TV6 and Radio 95.5 FM.

“That was in early June, accounting for our activities since February,” he told Newsday. “Note we started in February.”

Deyalsingh told Newsday, “Over-exposure to chemical spraying results in two dangerous outcomes: One, the mosquitoes build up resistance so creating a bigger long-term problem where the mosquitoes will not be controlled. Two, over-exposure can be harmful to human and animal health.

“That is why source reduction by eliminating breeding sites in our homes, schools, workplaces and places of worship where we spend many hours is critical.”

He urged a focus on property owners eliminating breeding sites, for example, flower pot saucers, guttering and water containers.

Deyalsingh sent Newsday a World Health Organization (WHO) document, Dengue Global Situation, dated May 30.

He remarked, “Please note this is a global problem due to changing weather patterns, for example, El Nino and La Nina.

“Politicising this issue as the UNC is doing is not helping the public to understand the issue.”

In the document, the WHO said this year it had 7.6 million reported cases of which 3.4 million were confirmed, including 16,000 severe cases and 3,000 deaths. The hike in cases was “particularly pronounced” in the Americas, with seven million cases by April, relative to 4.6 million last year. Some 90 countries have reported dengue cases, it said.

On April 18, the ministry, on Facebook, called on the public to be proactive in protecting themselves from mosquito bites.

On Facebook on June 21, the ministry posted two statements about people protecting themselves from mosquito bites and dengue fever signs and symptoms.

On July 5, the ministry posted a public advisory on Facebook, listing the phone numbers of all county medical officers of health, plus dengue symptoms.

In his June statement, Deyalsingh had said the ministry was targeting adult mosquitoes by three techniques. These were indoor residual spraying (spraying a home’s hard surfaces to last three months), thermal fogging (using a hand-held device to spray around buildings and open spaces), and ultra-low volume spraying (using a truck-mounted device to spray large outdoor spaces).

Saying the indiscriminate use of these chemicals could develop resistance within the mosquito population and may harm non-target organisms like butterflies and candleflies, he said the main method of control should remain source reduction strategies at the household and community levels. He had urged the cleaning of flower pot saucers, vases, tyres, buckets, barrels, plastic drums, water storage containers, guttering and drains.

“Any object that can hold even a small amount of stagnant water can be a mosquito breeding site.”

Seecheran, however, earlier alleged Deyalsingh had been “sleeping on the job” amid a massive surge across TT, whereby dengue was set to become “the covid19 of 2024.”

Citing TT’s dengue cases this year variously as 190 and 142, plus two deaths, Seecheran accused the minister of “downplaying the magnitude of the current surge in cases.”

He said public sector doctors were viewing dengue as a public health emergency yet lacked resources while being afraid to speak out.

Seecheran said the ministry listed the main cases as in County Caroni (31 per cent), County Victoria (29 per cent) and County St Patrick (23 per cent).

“Eight-three per cent of confirmed cases are in central and southern constituencies,” he said.

Woodland, Icacos, Granville and Bamboo were among the hardest hit areas.

“Dengue season in Trinidad coincides with the rainy season, which is from May to November.”

Saying the WHO said 2023 had the most cases on record, he said Puerto Rico has declared a dengue public health emergency, with more cases so far this year than all of 2023.

“The crisis in Puerto Rico was a warning sign for the rest of the Caribbean.”

Alleging negligence by Deyalsingh and his ministry, Seecheran said dengue is on the rise but vulnerable communities had not been targeted for help to curb the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

“Public outreach to malls is not adequate. Many of the dengue hotspots are very rural and remote areas.”

Seecheran said the ministry must visit rural, vulnerable communities to target those who need help the most.

Alleging a public health emergency, he alleged the Insect Vector Control Division (IVCD) was lacking vehicles, spraying chemicals and personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers.

Seecheran also alleged a lack of a public campaign in the press and television to educate the public, saying Deyalsingh’s promise of activities on June 15 came after a proliferation of mosquitoes, saying, “Too late Minister Deyalsingh!”

He said people should be told the signs and symptoms of dengue, which he said included high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes and joint pain, while severe dengue symptoms included severe abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, rapid breathing and bleeding gums or nose.

Citizens must protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing long clothing and using nets, repellents, coils and vaporisers, Seecheran urged.

He alleged the IVCD had to rotate its vehicles between counties when each county should have its own fleet to undertake spraying, resulting in municipal corporations having to take up the slack. Seecheran said the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation was spraying 1,000 homes per day.

He called on Minister of Local Government Faris Al-Rawi to ensure corporations got funding on time to combat the mosquito infestation and wanted action from the Ministry of Works and Transport.

“Now is not the time to play politics with the lives of people.

“In all central and southern constituencies, MPs are on record of requesting assistance with clogged drains and overgrown watercourses in the areas close to residential areas, where the mosquitoes could thrive. “These pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

“I, again, make an appeal on behalf of citizens that the Ministry of Works and Transport, as well as the Ministry of Local Government, immediately mobilise their resources to clear these watercourses that are havens for mosquito proliferation, as the mosquito breeds in stagnant water.”

Newsday tried to contact Sinanan and Al-Rawi via WhatsApp but up to press time, had got no responses.