Caution must be exercised at all times

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

We can never be too careful. This is an attitude the relevant authorities must adopt towards the Zika Virus as it continues to cause ripples across the globe.

While we don’t want to create unnecessary panic, we also don’t want to be too casual either. Which means caution must be exercised at all levels with the idea of protecting lives and our people becoming the priority.

Around the world today, countries are waking up to the fear of another potential catastrophe with this virus. Turn to page 11 of the newspaper you are reading and you’ll find that the World Health Organisation (W.H.O) is on the verge of declaring a state of emergency in relation to the virus.

On Monday, W.H.O is convening an emergency meeting of independent experts to decide if the outbreak should be declared an international health emergency. The connection between the virus, birth defects and neurological problems has heightened fears around the world.

And that is not all. Medical experts are also concerned about the relationship between Zika and Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis.

“The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions,” said W.H.O’s Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan. “The increased incidence of microcephaly is particularly alarming, as it places a heart-breaking burden on families and communities.”

Closer to home, Zika virus alerts put up by some of our neighbours have already had an impact. For example, two pregnant New Zealand women who had made plans to travel to Samoa have cancelled their trips. The truth is that they would not be the only ones. There would be many more now.

But their decision is understandable. I would have done the same.

The thing is this; Samoa has already had three confirmed cases of the Zika virus.

It’s irrelevant whether it was last or this year, the fact of the matter is that the Zika virus is present in Samoa. What has been done to ensure it is dealt with since these cases were identified? And why are we only being told now? Why were we not told last year when the cases were found?

Come to think of it, the Ministry of Health’s passiveness in responding to questions about the Zika virus is alarming. For all we know, this could have been more serious and yet there was hardly anything in the public arena about it until last week. 

The issue is that there might have been three cases identified by the public health, but what about the patients being treated by private practitioners? What guarantee do we have that not more Zika cases were found there?

There is more of course. Has the Ministry been able to pinpoint the villages where Zika virus was present and if so, were there any fumigation measures taken to stop the virus from spreading? 

On a more serious note, has there been an increase in Microcephaly cases in Samoa in the last 12 months or so? If so, which areas? And has anything been done to deal with it?

The point is that members of the public deserve accurate information and clear public advisories about the issue. When it comes to threats such as these viruses, we cannot be complacent. The scary thought is that the same mosquitoes responsible for the Chikungunya can carry the Zika virus. And if that is the case, we have real reasons to be worried given the state of the Chikungunya outbreak last year.

Earlier this week, the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, moved to assuaged fears about the virus saying there was nothing to worry about. 

“Our advice to people is to make sure their homes are mosquito free,” he said.

In relation to the Chikungunya fears, Leausa said the number of Zika virus cases was nowhere near the level that was reached by the Chikungunya virus.

“There is a big gap,” he said.

Well that’s good then, isn’t it? 

Still, we believe it pays to be extra cautions. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.

On that note, below are some tips on how you can prevent and protect your families from the virus. Stay safe and have a pleasant weekend Samoa, God bless!

 

Public Health Prevention:

• Prevent mosquito bites – by dress with long sleeves; use mosquito repellants and insecticide; screen houses and sleep in mosquito nets especially for babies, pregnant women, elderly and people with co-morbid conditions; 

• Source Reduction - by cleaning up your living environment/ destroying all Mosquito Breeding sites such as old tyres, plastic containers and bags, clear blocked gutters and re-new standing water inside and outside houses etc… 

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