Sixty-one dengue cases have been reported in the Cook Islands, 22 of them confirmed – but health officials lack the basic tools they say they need to fight the outbreak.
The Ministry of Health has flown in mosquito experts from New Zealand to train health protection officers to better understand the vector control strategy required to control the spread of dengue-carrying mosquitoes.
But secretary for health Dr Josephine Herman says it’s not enough: the Cook Islands need the World Mosquito Programme that she has been pushing to bring here.
The comprehensive programme has been offered to only four countries in the Pacific: Vanuatu, Fiji, Kiribati and New Caledonia.
“For the Cook Islands I have been advocating strongly for the World Mosquito Programme to come into this country. The negotiations are still ongoing but recently we were given the opportunity to say whether we might be interested in this one and of course we said yes.
In the meantime, though, the Cooks have resorted to makeshift measures.
“Because of the outbreak we can’t wait for bigger programmes to come, because that takes time to implement. We are doing what we can to the best of our ability,” Dr Herman said.
That means icecream containers instead of proper mosquito traps.
The training is conducted by principal entomologist Dr Mariana Musicante and taxonomist Roz McKenzie, specialists from the New Zealand BioSecure Entomology Laboratory.
They have been involved in product testing for mosquito repellents and provide entomology identification services at border health training for New Zealand’s Health Ministry.
Dr Herman said due to the outbreak they have been managing, they had seen that vector control – killing off the mosquitoes in key, high-risk locations – was the best long-term strategy to address dengue fever.
However, she said the officers, including those for the outer islands, require additional skills and training to check what they have been doing so far, and what is appropriate and what is the next step to end the dengue virus.
“That’s why they are here. Our workforce has not had this kind of training in the past, a new learning from New Zealand. It is a way of better recognising what types of mosquitoes we have and making sure that we get rid of the ones that are causing dengue, carrying this virus.”
She said vector control strategies had been implemented around the larvae area but the training focused on trapping adult mosquitoes.
“These are very expensive tools to purchase. So we have been waiting for the two specialists to come into the country and have a look at our environment and give us advice regarding whether we go ahead and purchase these adult mosquito traps or not.”
She said the existing traps were scattered around the hospital area, airport, two harbours and the Punanga Nui market.
The Ministry of Health was using ice-cream containers when it began the vector surveillance programme, and from the workshop this week would know whether that was sufficient or needed to change.
“Right now we are managing internally, ice cream containers are free,” she added.