25 Jan 2009

‘Public health worse than people know’

Three people from one community have died of leptospirosis, according to health officials. And four soldiers contracted malaria recently, after an exercise in the forest, while the dengue outbreak is serious. In addition, there are concerns over the yellow fever situation. This update has been provided by the health authorities, in tandem with the Ministry of Local Government, to public health inspectors of municipal corporations.

The meeting of approximately 40 stakeholders took place in the ministry’s head offices at Kent House, Port-of-Spain, and was chaired by Permanent Secretary Stephen Crease. Along with the inspectors, health and local government officials attended the session, during which Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Anton Cumberbatch gave a bird’s-eye update. The meeting was told of several incidents of the deadly leptospirosis, including the deaths of three people from an unnamed community.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease usually caused by exposure to water contaminated with urine of infected animals. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches and vomiting. Patients can develop kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure and respiratory distress. Death occurs in extreme cases. The disease is not spread from patient to patient. Contrary to popular public belief, the disease is not just spread by rodents, but also by cattle, dogs, pigs and horses. Participants learnt that the dengue fever crisis was much worse than official statistics indicate, partly because of the difficulty in obtaining up-to-date fatality figures.

Health inspectors were told that dead monkeys from the Guayaguayare forest had tested positive for yellow fever. The inspectors raised queries about the non-availability of sufficient amount of vaccines and a general shortage of other relevant resources. They and other participants at the meeting were urged to obtain yellow fever shots for themselves and relatives. An announcement was made of an impending crackdown on the disposal of used vehicle tyres. About one million tyres are dumped each year, and, according to the officials, many collect water, which breed deadly mosquitoes. There were also discussions about a possible plan to compress unused vehicles.

Dr Cumberbatch and other speakers called on the health inspectors to launch clean-up campaigns within their communities. One participant at the meeting said later: “I left with a chilling feeling that the public health situation is much worse than we are being officially told. “To be facing dengue, yellow fever, malaria and leptospirosis means that we are in the midst of a serious health scourge.” He said authorities should provide frequent and frank updates.

From the Guardian

Makes me wonder, given the statement above that the people at the meeting were advised to get vaccines for themselves and their relatives, what is going to happen to the rest of the population without the CONNECTIONS described above.