Marshalls health officials try to prevent Zika spread
The Marshall Islands is the latest Pacific Island country pulling out all the stops to try to prevent pregnant women from contracting the zika virus.
The Marshall Islands is the latest Pacific Island country pulling out all the stops to try to prevent pregnant women from contracting the Zika virus.
The government last week declared a state of health emergency to push the country's response to the Zika virus into high gear.
Leilani Momoisea reports.
The Marshall Islands confirmed its first case of a pregnant woman with the virus last month. In its state of health emergency declaration, the government says the country is highly vulnerable, and one case of Zika defines an outbreak. American Samoa has also ramped up its response with five pregnant women among 13 confirmed cases. Zika has been linked to the severe birth defect microcephaly and Mark Durand, of the Pacific Island Health Officers Association, says immediate action is needed to ensure no other pregnant women contract the virus. Dr Durand is assisting the Marshall islands Ministry of Health in controlling the outbreak.
MARK DURAND: It's the dry season, so the worry is that it's really going to take off and maybe affect a lot of pregnancies when it starts to rain, so there's really this state of emergency to try to see if it's possible to snuff this out before it really gets rolling.
The Ministry of Health's Helentina Garstang says resources are being focussed on pregnant women first. She says volunteers are going house to house distributing leaflets on cleaning and how to control mosquitoes, how to recognise symptoms and asking pregnant women to pick up a Zika kit.
HELENTINA GARSTANG: The zika kits include mosquito repellant, treated mosquito nets, and condoms, along with a leaflet, an educational leaflet in the local language as well as English.
Dr Garstang says the virus can be transmitted by blood contact and the Marshall Islands is looking at importing blood so pregnant women are not further at risk.
HELENTINA GARSTANG: We are working on that in trying to see what is our stocktake and how much blood we need to be importing based on our population. Our population, or pregnancy delivery every year is about 1,000, so we're anticipating a lot.
Another health official, Francyne Wase-Jacklick says the emergency declaration means other government departments are also involved in responding to the outbreak, like immigration and the ports authorities. She says it's important to ensure the virus is not transmitted to the outer islands.
FRANCYNE WASE-JACKLICK: There is little to no resources [on the outer islands], we have health centres but it doesn't provide as much health services as it does in the urban centres. So we are trying to protect our communities in the outer islands, where they are more vulnerable and not much resources are available.
Francyne Wase-Jacklick says surveillance sites have been set up to check for symptoms that may be linked to Zika, and anyone with those symptoms will not be allowed to travel to the outer islands. She says they are also focussing on a major island wide clean up, expected to last up to two months. An entomologist is scheduled to arrive in the Marshalls next week to provide mosquito control training for health and local government staff.
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