Over the past weekend, and following the decision by the Minister of Health to issue a Public National Health Emergency with regards to the Zika virus, I have been bombarded by citizens, both locally and abroad, who have shared their confusion and fears regarding the threat of this pandemic. This is fueled by the fact that no confirmed cases of the virus has been reported on either island, as such, by making such a premature pronouncement, this is only causing fear and hysteria, especially during this Carnival season. Many of the persons I have spoken with were concerned that they should no longer return to their homeland, or take part in the festivities, based on the heightened state of alert the government has placed on the nation. While the menace and the manifestation of the disease does in fact warrant a state of increased vigilance to prevent it from spreading to our country however, to date, the government has stood-fast to their decision to contain and minimize the transmission of the virus after it enters our shores, rather than place any effort into protecting our citizens from its invasion of our country.
It is at times such as these, I am reminded of the Polio outbreak of 1972, when Carnival was suspended to prevent the spread of the disease, which should be at least be considered for the safety of our population. This is reinforced by the recent discovery that the virus may also be transferred in the form of a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD), thereby expanding the transmission system of the virus from an exclusively vector-based one, to a person-to-person delivery method. This means the the process to eliminate the Aedes Aegypti mosquito that is being carried out throughout the country may eventually prove to be ineffective, if mosquitoes are not the only means by which this virus can travel.
Further to this however, is that the PNM administration seems to be taking an extremely lethargic position in protecting the nation from exposure to a virus that has prompted other governments to issue warnings to their citizens to prevent them from reproducing for up to two years, as a countermeasure to its symptoms. The threat of babies contracting Microcephaly as a congenital effect from this virus while they are still in their mother’s womb is frightening enough to warrant that countries affected by the Zika virus would initiate a two year contraceptive period to prevent an entire generation from contracting this defect. The number of cases in Brazil alone is approximately four thousand babies being born with this condition since October 2015, and global health organizations are now urging their government to remove their ban on abortions, to allow mothers the opportunity to terminate their pregnancy if they believe that their child may have contracted this defect.
At this time, there are no vaccines for the Zika virus, nor Microcephaly, and as such, the only way to ensure that our citizens are fully protected from either of these diseases is to prevent Zika from entering our country. While Mr. Deyalsingh has responded faineantly by stating that screening procedures may not be able to detect visible indicators of the virus in persons who only recently contracted it, by monitoring travel itinerary of persons who are attempting to enter our borders however, we can identify persons who pose the highest risk based on their contact with countries already affected by the virus, and can therefore examine them more intensively, before allowing them access to our unsuspecting population. While these measures may seem extreme however, when placed in perspective of the consequences that we may face should this virus infect our nation, we may find that end justifies the means, if it ensures the health, safety and well-being of our citizens and future generations.
Dr. Fuad Khan
Member of Parliament for the Barataria/San Juan Constituency