By TOM GODFREY
A world-renowned Toronto public health specialist has been appointed to coordinate health issues relating to Jamaica and the diaspora communities in Canada.
Dr. Sylvanus Thompson was named Director of Public Health and Environment last week by the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation (JDCF) to oversee concerns that include fighting the chikungunya virus and containing a possible outbreak of Ebola.
“I will be working with the Jamaican government to offer technical help, develop policy or educational campaigns,” Dr. Thompson told Share. “We will find out what assistance we can provide and work from there.”
Jamaican Prime Minster, Portia Simpson-Miller, has declared a State of Emergency and appealed to the diaspora communities for specialized thermometers, Ebola protection suits and mosquito nets to curb the spread of chikungunya in rural areas.
Thompson, who is a Toronto Public Health associate director, recently returned from Jamaica and said cases of chikungunya have decreased.
“The government has put measures in place and cases are going down,” he said. “It is not as bad as it was a month ago.”
Thompson, who has close to 30 years of environmental health management experience, will be liaising with his counterparts in Jamaica and reporting back on their needs to the JDCF.
JDCF president, Valarie Steele, said Thompson is an asset to Jamaica’s health care.
“Dr. Thompson is recognized worldwide as one of the foremost authorities in this field and has a significant international network,” Steele said in a statement. “He is what Jamaica needs now to assist in this public health emergency.”
Thompson is a graduate of the West Indies School of Public Health and a former Public Health Inspector in Jamaica. He is a lifetime member of the Public Health Association of Jamaica and holds degrees from Ryerson University, the University of Guelph and the University of California, Berkeley.
He has written numerous regulatory guidelines on public health and environmental health issues, including guidelines for the containment of outbreaks of food-borne diseases and the SARS outbreak in Toronto, which he co-authored with the late Dr. Sheila Basrur, a former Medical Officer of Health for Toronto and Ontario.
Thompson also played a key role in the implementation of the Toronto Food Inspection and Disclosure System – DineSafe – that posts inspection results for eateries online and in their front windows.
The program was recognized with the Samuel J. Crumbine Award in Ohio in 2011.
JDCF board member, Kingsley Gilliam, said the Director’s role is to promote a healthier environment, intensify primary prevention and influence public policies in Jamaica to address the root causes of environmental threats to health.
“The Directorate will actively engage in identifying priority areas of need, particularly where international skills and expertise can be utilized in resolving local public health issues,” he said.
Recent outbreaks of chikungunya have sickened up to 800,000 people in the Caribbean. More than 200 Canadians were infected by the virus after returning from trips to Jamaica.
The flu-like virus, which is caused by the sting of certain mosquitoes, has spread through the region since surfacing in St. Martin in 2013. The majority of cases so far have been in the Dominican Republic.
More than a dozen of the thermometers have been sent for use in Jamaica by the diaspora communities in Canada, the U.S. and Britain.
Donations to purchase more much-needed gear can be made to the JDCF Public Health Emergency Fund at any branch of Scotiabank. The account number is 50062 00381 13.