The impact of the novel coronavirus has understandably absorbed all the energies and resources of health ministries across the region. But even as the Pacific grapples with the real and anticipated impact of COVID-19, several countries continue to face another public health crisis: dengue.
Late last year the Marshall Islands declared a state of emergency connected to an ongoing dengue outbreak first reported on Ebeye in July. As of February 23 this year there have been 2,956 cases of dengue-like illness there. Three people have died, and the government has spent over US$2million treating the sick and trying to curb the outbreak.
Last September, Guam detected its first locally-acquired dengue case on Guam since 1944.
Meanwhile 101 dengue cases were recorded on Rarotonga, Cook Islands in March. Efforts there to bring down the numbers are being hampered by bad weather say local officials.
In all locations, traditional methods of combatting dengue such as mass spraying, clean ups and awareness campaigns are having little effect.
That’s not a situation unique to the Pacific, and it is the failure of these traditional methods which has prompted the World Mosquito Program (WMP) to launch an innovative program to control dengue through the release of Wolbachia -carrying mosquitoes. When Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carry Wolbachia, the bacteria compete with viruses like dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever. This makes it harder for viruses to reproduce inside the mosquitoes, and those mosquitoes are much less likely to spread viruses from person to person.
The WMP ran its Wolbachia program, releasing mosquitos by hand and by drone in four Pacific Island locations: Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Kiribati. IN three of these the release is complete, and monitoring has been handed over to national governments. In Noumea, Wolbachia-infected mosquito releases were scheduled to the end of April.
How successful have these pilot programs been? Are there plans to extend them to elsewhere in the Pacific? Get your copy of Islands Business to find out.