PDRC chairman: Rural areas need more help to fight dengue spread

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Discarded tyres sit in a pool of stagnant water in an open field on Hosein’s Avenue, Woodland on Sunday. – Photo by Venessa Mohammed

Penal Debe Regional Corporation (PDRC) chairman Gowtam Maharaj believes expert agencies need to step up and help combat dengue in rural areas.

His comments came as he said Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh’s repeated advice for people to clean up around their homes would not suffice for rural communities. Maharaj said there were many properties within his district which were once used for farming and created a perfect breeding ground for the insects.

“You have to understand things in a context. When rice-growing was there, you would have had the farmers doing a bit of spraying and so on, you would have had the drains and so on. Now, that has gone. Now they are water-catchment areas. They are lying shallow. We need to have a programme. With climate change and with warmer temperatures, it’s ideal for these things.

“Some particular agency, whether it’s UWI (the University of the West Indies) or Ministry of Agriculture extension office if they are to be topped up with experts from wherever…have to come and look at those things and pronounce. Things are not happening by guess. They are happening as a result of other things.”

Maharaj said state bodies needed to make an active effort to combat the transmission of dengue. He dismissed the idea that regional corporations ought to be the forefront agency in combating dengue spread.

He said the Ministry of Health’s Insect Vector Control Division (IVCD) was supposed to take the lead and be supported by local-government bodies, but that was not happening.

“There is a serious breakdown of the collaborative effort, which is an international best practice, in handling what may be an outbreak.”

He said although the IVCD is better equipped to handle mosquito eradication, its presence had been lacking on the ground.

He said the health agencies also shared little to no information with the regional corporation to help guide its approach to combating the disease.

“The collaboration needs to begin ASAP (as soon as possible) so we can be guided properly.

“They (IVCD) have the competency, and whilst we are using manpower and so on here, we want this to be an integrated insect-vector-control programme. That is how the best practice is in the international front.”

To guide its efforts, Maharaj said the corporation depended on word-of-mouth reports. He said such anecdotal reports pointed to 11 cases in a short trace off of Rochard Road, Penal, with one person warded in ICU.

Maharaj, however, shared Deyalsingh’s view that simply spraying for the mosquitoes was not the solution. While he said it was necessary in the short term, he said a more comprehensive approach was needed and would require infrastructure development.

He said, however, the corporation had not received any of its budgetary allocation for it to perform road and drainage development.

Similarly, chairman of the Princes Town Regional Corporation Gowrie Roopnarine called for the Government to provide more funding to combat dengue which he described as a “health crisis.”

In a statement on Monday, Roopnarine asked that relevant authorities fully equip the IVCD and the regional corporation.

“Presently (sic), within the region of Princes Town, there are several active cases. While the efforts of Ms Alison M Rampersad (Health Control Officer III) are applauded, currently her division is understaffed and underfunded.

“Similarly, the Princes Town Regional Corporation is stifled for funding. As such, we are unable to assist the IVCD as previously done through the provision of vehicles, manpower and equipment in eradicating the infestation of mosquitoes within the region.”

In a statement on Monday the Caribbean Public Health Agency (Carpha) called for community-based mosquito control measures to be ramped up amidst a marked increase in dengue cases in the region.

The Americas have seen a 200-fold increase in suspected dengue cases in the first half of 2024, compared to the same period in 2023. Carpha said member states were encouraged to remain vigilant.

“It is crucial that surveillance, prevention and control measures are boosted to reduce the transmission of arboviruses (diseases spread by insect bites) in the Caribbean.”

Assistant director of surveillance, disease prevention and control, and head vector-borne diseases at Carpha Dr Horace Cox urged countries to strengthen integrated vector-management strategies in their communities.

“These include the elimination of mosquito breeding sites with the aim of reducing the number of mosquito larvae.”

On Sunday, South Oropouche Riverine Flood Action Group head and activist Edward Moodie blamed the increase in mosquitoes in Woodland on a saltwater incursion into 65 acres of lagoon.

He said the intrusion happened during last year’s floods when the South Oropouche River’s banks were compromised, allowing seawater into the wetlands. This, he said, killed the freshwater fish and organisms in the area, leaving mosquitoes to reproduce unabated. He now plans to reintroduce some of the mosquitoes’ natural predators like 10,000 cascadura fish back into the ecosystem to disrupt the insect’s breeding.

Opposition MP Dr Rishad Seecheran slammed the Minister of Health on Sunday over the management and prevention of dengue. However, Deyalsingh told Newsday spraying could not be over-relied on because it could lead to the insects building resistance to the chemicals as well as pose a threat to humans and animals.

Deyalsingh said that was why the population needed to focus on eliminating breeding sources around their homes, workplaces, schools and religious institutions.

Seecheran also criticised Deyalsingh for starting an education drive too late but the minister said it began in February. Seecheran, however, said the campaigns were done in malls while residents in rural communities were more at risk.