The Chikungunya Virus Brings Jamaica to Its Knees

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, vector for the Chikungunya virus. Photo by Marc AuMarc, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, vector for the Chikungunya virus. Photo by Marc AuMarc, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Chikungunya, a virus that causes high fever and severe joint pain, is now rampant across the Caribbean. The disease is vector-spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, and the number of new cases has steadily risen across the region.

Jamaica in particular seems to be having difficulty containing the spread of both the virus and misinformation about the disease. Blogger “Cucumber Juice” admits that the “ordinary Jamaican” has played a part in the Chikungunya “rampage”, but she also criticizes the Jamaican health minister's handling of the crisis, even going so far as to suggest he should resign:

The viral fever chikungunya is now out of hand — it is an epidemic — and a lot of work is needed to get things under control. Dr. Ferguson is no longer worthy of the trust or expectation that he can lead the work that needs to be done. […]

Why resign? Because Dr. Ferguson is now the very public face of an abject public health failure and of a Ministry that is rightly mistrusted by many in the population he is meant to protect and serve.

The blogger, Alice Clare, argues that the next steps should be to “mitigate and educate”, while addressing the country's immediate needs: an island-wide cleanup of streets, drains, and gullies, to get rid of the stagnant water where mosquitoes breed. She also advocates teaching vulnerable communities about proper water storage and disposal. Unreliable garbage collection has also exacerbated the health situation. Perhaps social media can be used as an effective information channel to educate the public, Clare hopes.

Twitter user Charmaine Wright suggests that health officials also need to make sure information spreads to the community level, so it connects with people, particularly those who are illiterate or lack Internet access. Music, she suggests, would be a great way to achieve this. In fact, Jamaica already has a Chikungunya song.

Using the hashtags #chikungunya #caribbean, Twitter users are sharing information about how climate change can contribute to the spread of disease, about regional Chikungunya death toll statistics, and much more. One Jamaica-based Twitter user, Emma Lewis, asked:

Lewis also wondered if the outbreak might have political implications for the Jamaican government. Compatriot Jan Voordouw noted:

Some netizens took a humourous view of the situation:

The government, however, doesn't consider the situation a laughing matter. The minister of health finally addressed the nation about the health crisis last Sunday, on September 28. In the meantime, Jamaicans continue to find ways to cope with the outbreak.


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