Avoiding mosquito-borne diseases
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THE rainy season is here and with it will come an increase in the prevalence of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes may be tiny, but experts say that they are the most dangerous creatures on earth, because they can carry so many different deadly diseases.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), worldwide, about 700 million people get sick from diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, causing between 725,000 and 1,000,000 deaths every year. It is therefore vitally important that everything possible be done to fight mosquito-borne diseases.

Scientists call creatures such as mosquitoes, vectors, because they carry disease from an infected person to other people. Mosquitoes are considered the deadliest of all vectors because it can transmit malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, chikungunya, yellow fever, filariasis, tuleramia, dirofilariasis, Saint Louis encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, Western equine encephalitis, Ross River fever, Barmah Forest fever, La Crosse encephalitis, Zika, as well as a recently discovered virus called the Keystone virus.

All of those diseases cause severe illness and can result in death. Doctors say that anyone can die from a mosquito-borne disease, but the young, the elderly, persons with weakened immune systems and people who are already sick account for the highest number of fatalities.

In Guyana, five of those diseases are most prevalent. Chikungunya causes sudden fever, debilitating pain in the joints, headache, nausea, and skin-rashes. Dengue can cause blood-vessel damage, liver enlargement, fever, and internal bleeding. Filariasis may result in unsightly swelling about the body. Malaria can cause the organs of the body to fail, coma, and death. And Zika can result in rashes, fever, joint pain, and eye infections. Pregnant women who are infected by zika are at great risk of producing babies with microcephaly (a small head and under-developed brain).

The Ministry of Public Health has reported that despite our small population, on average, a person is diagnosed with malaria every hour. The ministry said too, that 76.8 per cent of persons diagnosed with a mosquito-borne disease are in the 15-49 years age-group – the most productive years of life. Evidently, such diseases can impose a huge burden on families, communities, and the country generally.

There are other risks too: mosquitoes have no borders, they can travel from country to country. This means that mosquitoes can bring new diseases into Guyana. Diseases for which our healthcare system may be less prepared to combat. For example, Guyanese heard about chikungunya for the first time during the massive outbreak in 2014. And before the 2016 zika outbreak, most Guyanese had never heard of that disease. All of those facts represent major challenges to government; challenges which must be overcome if we are to develop.

Authorities say that mosquito-borne diseases are a nationwide problem, but are most prevalent in Potaro-Siparuni, Barima-Waini, Cuyuni-Mazaruni, and the Rupununi regions; health workers in those areas are trained accordingly.

Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, for this reason, President David Granger said earlier this year that, “Vector-borne diseases must be tackled as an environmental hazard – they are linked to human activity and, particularly to reckless and irresponsible environmental practices.” He spoke of miners who fail to cover their mining pits after completing their operations, providing open craters and pools which can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

He cited the dumping of receptacles such as old tyres, plastic bottles, food boxes, and coconut shells; he mentioned abandonment of equipment, boats, and vehicles, all of which can hold stagnant water and provide breeding sites for deadly mosquitoes. He added, “Sound environmental practices are pivotal to reducing and removing the breeding sites for mosquitoes that cause diseases, and must be part of the solution of the vector-borne disease threat.”

While citizens must do their part to eliminate breeding areas, use nets and repellants, and remain vigilant. Government’s approach to the problem is in line with WHO’s Global Vector Control Response 2017-2030 (GVCR).

Guyana has a four-point approach:
1. Environmental control
2. Personal protection measures
3. Biological control, and
4. Chemical control

While fogging, oiling, and net distribution are important, government has said that the most important intervention is educating the public, especially during rainy seasons, about the dangers of mosquitoes to help Guyanese protect themselves from the deadly diseases that the insects carry.

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