A two-day regional workshop aimed at helping communication and health promotion specialist become more efficient in the use of media technologies in the dissemination of information about the mosquito-borne Zika virus and other epidemics began on Monday night amid indications that the economic impact of the virus on Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) could run into billions of dollars.
Barbados Health Minister John Boyce addressing the Zika TECHCAMP workshop said that the World Bank estimates that the short and long term economic impact of Zika for the LAC will be a US$3.5 billion loss to gross domestic product (GDP) with tourism dependent countries like those in the Caribbean being particularly affected.
“Added to this the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) estimates that a 2.4 per cent decline in tourism corresponding to an adverse impact of US$200-400 million can be expected within our region”.
He told the workshop organised by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the United States government that “this fight against infectious diseases is one of the most urgent and formidable we face”.
The organisers said the event is intended to build regional capacity to use digital media and strategies to improve public health communication about Zika and other epidemics as well as to promote a culture of technological innovation to strengthen public health communication campaigns.
It is also intended to enhance digital literacy for public health professionals, provide a forum to facilitate the strengthening of networks of public health officials and communicators across the Caribbean region
Boyce said that the United Kingdom Department of Aviation and Transportation has indicated that one billion passengers travel by air annually with 50 million travelling to the developing world.
“Owing to the increased affordability of air travel and mobility of people, airborne, vector borne and zoonotic diseases transmitted during commercial air travel are important public health challenges”.
Boyce said that it is of utmost importance that flight crews, port health staff, public health and other health care professionals play their important role in managing infectious diseases transmitted on airlines and sea craft through familiarity a=with guidelines provided by local and international authorities.
He said the importance of informing, educating and empowering people to communicate with target audiences about Zika and other epidemics cannot be over stressed.
“Effective communication can support changes in attitude, norms and behaviours to prevent the spread of disease,” Boyce said, noting that the two-day workshop seeks to build regional capacity to use digital media strategies to improve public health communication campaigns, enhance digital literacy of public health professionals and to provide a forum that facilitates the strengthening of networks and connections of public health officials and communicators across the Caribbean.
Boyce said that Barbados has so far this year recorded 39 suspected cases of Zika, three of which have been confirmed.
He said since the latter half of the 1970’s outbreaks of arboviral diseases such as Dengue Fever have increased in North and South America and the Caribbean.
Boyce said that Chikungunya surfaced in 2014 and that the statistics for that year revealed that 1,851 suspected cases with 139 being confirmed.
But he said since then the number of cases has dropped significantly, but warned that the decline has not lulled us into any complacency.
“Our goal is to reduce morbidity and mortality through the implementation of activities to decrease mosquito breeding. While the available indicators are consistent with a decrease in mosquito activity we are confronted with a number of critical factors that contribute to vector borne diseases expanding into new habitats, “Boyce warned.
He said since the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of the Zika associated neurological anomalies including microcephaly as a “public Health Emergency of International Concern” there has been increased attention on Zika virus disease, its spread and its impact.