Advocates stress civic engagement to combat dengue spread Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

The recent dengue outbreak in Jamaica has highlighted the need for improved social infrastructure, civic pride, and environmental stewardship.

For Ricardo Woolery, Chief Public Health Inspector for Clarendon, more can be done to prevent vector-borne diseases. 

He believes people in rural areas and those on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder should have greater access to social services. 

Woolery has also emphasised the need for infrastructure to facilitate this change and strengthen the social base.

In a recent podcast series, “Impacting Jamaica”, Woolery pointed out that some people in rural communities don’t have proper storage containers for water, noting also that garbage collection is done less frequently in rural areas, contributing to public and environmental health concerns like dengue. 

“These are real social issues we have to lift the population from,” he said.

Unplanned housing developments also hinder the control of vector-borne diseases, Woolery noted. 

“When we build ad hoc, there are many environmental impacts…We need to enact zoning laws to say certain things should be in certain areas,” he reasoned.

“While I agree that the residents have a responsibility for their actions, the state has the responsibility to ensure that it facilitates good behaviour. It’s two-fold. We have to put the infrastructure in place and the residents need to do what they need to do,” Woolery said.

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness declared a dengue outbreak in Jamaica last September. Up to January 11, there were 1,534 confirmed dengue cases with 19 dengue-related deaths – 13 classified as suspected and six as confirmed.  

According to Woolery, Jamaicans in the lower socio-economic brackets tend to prioritise finding their next meal over public health and dengue, making it difficult to combat the virus in these areas.

“In the lower social classes, people are more concerned about ‘how am I going to get through today, where am I going to find the next meal…how am I going to get my kids to school’,” the public health official reasoned.

Alphonso Lewis, acting president of the Longville Community Development, and Romeo Mitchell of the May Pen Development Area Committee, agree that there is a need to improve civic responses to public health concerns.

Meanwhile, Woolery called for greater policy support and enforcement to counter acts of littering. While a ticketing system would be a “viable option” there is no infrastructure in place to support it, he said.

“That is where we need some assistance. It doesn’t make sense for you to write a ticket and there is no one to collect it [the fine],” Woolery said.

Despite the fall in the number of dengue cases since the beginning of the colder months, he reiterated his encouragement for Jamaicans to continue their vigilance to ensure another outbreak does not occur when the rainy months begin.

“For some reason, people don’t grasp the seriousness of the issue. In reality, most persons who get dengue recover without having to go to the doctor so sometimes they don’t see it necessary to employ the methods to prevent dengue,” he reasoned.

“In Jamaica, we don’t take anything seriously until it gets serious,” Woolery said urging Jamaicans not to get complacent.