By TOM GODFREY
Members of the Jamaican diaspora are raising funds to purchase thermometers, Ebola kits and other gear to battle viruses, including chikungunya, that have led to a State of Emergency being declared on the island.
Recent outbreaks of chikungunya have sickened up to 800,000 people in the Caribbean. More than 200 Canadians have been infected by chikungunya after returning from trips to Jamaica, that has been hard hit by the mosquito-borne virus.
Last week, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller declared a State of Emergency and asked diaspora communities to contribute some of the much-needed gear, which also includes mosquito nets.
Health Minister, Dr. Fenton Ferguson, said Ebola protective gear is sought as Jamaica, and other countries, ramp up their screening and treatment of visitors who are suspected of having the deadly disease. There have been some suspected cases, but they all tested negative.
Kingsley Gilliam, of the Jamaica Diaspora Canada Foundation (JDCF), said there is a dire need for the equipment to curb the spread of chikungunya.
He said the thermometers and Ebola kits are for use by frontline officers at the two major international airports to screen arriving passengers for symptoms of the disease that originates in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“They are getting prepared with the equipment to deal with suspected Ebola cases,” Gilliam told Share. “We will need the equipment as long as there is international travel.”
Gilliam said 10 of the specialized thermometers have been ordered at a cost of about $100 Cdn. each.
He urged Jamaicans abroad to donate to help purchase the equipment, which will be sent for use in Jamaica.
“We are also exploring the pricing and sources from which the nets and Ebola kits can be obtained,” said Gilliam. “This is an emergency situation and members of the Jamaican diaspora are being asked to contribute.”
He said a JDCF board member was sickened by the virus during a recent trip to Jamaica.
“She is feeling a lot better now,” said Gilliam. “The virus was much more widespread than reported because many people did not visit a doctor.”
Canada issued a travel alert last month warning people visiting the Caribbean to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
The Public Health Agency of Canada urged travellers to consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic at least six weeks before going to the Caribbean.
There is no vaccine or treatment to fight the virus, but the World Health Organization (WHO) said most patients recover fully.
“In some cases joint pain may persist for several months, or even years,”the WHO said on its website.
Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted to humans by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, that usually strike during the day.
The infection, which is rarely fatal, can cause death in infants, people with weakened immune systems, and older people. The virus causes fever and severe joint pain and other symptoms can include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash.
Those suffering from the infection can barely walk at times due to swollen or severe joints, health workers said.
The disease has spread throughout the region since surfacing in St. Martin in 2013, with more than 800,000 suspected cases in the Caribbean reported. The majority of these are in the Dominican Republic.
Donations to purchase the equipment can be made to the JDCF Public Health Emergency Fund at any branch of Scotiabank. The account number is 50062 00381 13.