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Marshalls ramps up efforts to stop Zika

Tuesday 8 March 2016 | Published in Regional

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MAJURO – The Marshall Islands is the latest Pacific island country pulling out all the stops to try to prevent pregnant women from contracting the Zika virus.

The government last week declared a state of health emergency to push the country’s response to the Zika virus into high gear. The Marshall Islands confirmed its first case of a pregnant woman with the virus last month. In its state of health emergency declaration, the government says the country is highly vulnerable, and one case of Zika defines an outbreak.

American Samoa has also ramped up its response with five pregnant women among 13 confirmed cases. Zika has been linked to the severe birth defect microcephaly and Mark Durand, of the Pacific

Island Health Officers Association, says immediate action is needed to ensure no other pregnant women contract the virus. Dr Durand is assisting the Marshall islands Ministry of Health in controlling the outbreak.

“It’s the dry season, so the worry is that it’s really going to take off and maybe affect a lot of pregnancies when it starts to rain, so there’s really this state of emergency to try to see if it’s possible to snuff this out before it really gets rolling.”

The Ministry of Health’s Helentina Garstang says resources are being focussed on pregnant women first. She says volunteers are going house to house distributing leaflets on cleaning and how to control mosquitoes, how to recognise symptoms and asking pregnant women to pick up a Zika kit. “The zika kits include mosquito repellant, treated mosquito nets, and condoms, along with a leaflet, an educational leaflet in the local language as well as English.” Dr Garstang says the virus can be transmitted by blood contact and the Marshall Islands is looking at importing blood so pregnant women are not further at risk.

“We are working on that in trying to see what is our stocktake and how much blood we need to be importing based on our population. Our population, or pregnancy delivery every year is about 1000, so we’re anticipating a lot.” Another health official, Francyne Wase-Jacklick says the emergency declaration means other government departments are also involved in responding to the outbreak, like immigration and the ports authorities. She says it’s important to ensure the virus is not transmitted to the outer islands.

“There is little to no resources on the outer islands, we have health centres but it doesn’t provide as health services as it does in the urban centres. So we are trying to protect our communities in the outer islands, where they are more vulnerable and not many resources are available.” Wase-Jacklick says surveillance sites have been set up to

check for symptoms that may be linked to Zika, and anyone with those symptoms will not be allowed to travel to the outer islands.

She says they are also focussing on a major island wide clean up, expected to last up to two months. An entomologist is scheduled to arrive in the Marshalls next week to provide mosquito control training. - DP

Emotional win for Fiji at Las Vegas sevens

LAS VEGAS – Fiji fans broke security lines jumping over the embankment running to the field to congratulate the Vodafone Fiji 7s team at the Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas on Sunday.

There were two reasons why they did it – first was their happiness in that the team managed to win the heart-stopping match coming from 0-15 down in the first half to win 21-15.

Second, every Fijian in the stand wanted a win for Fiji and all those affected by Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston.

Many have said that sevens rugby unites the country. Severe TC Winston is the other, uniting the country in grief and sorrow but with a stronger determination to “rise again”, the Fiji Times reports.

But if anything that had the power to make Fiji happy, it would be sevens rugby.

Fans were in tears when the national anthem was sung before the game and after the game when Fiji won.

“For Winston”, some screamed.

One fan said: “I left Fiji 42 years ago but it will always be in my heart. I still visit every year and we are always thinking of you people back home.”

Sevens wizard Waisale Serevi also said the team needed to win the tournament for those in Fiji.

Fiji had a strong vocal support and the “noble blue banner” was in almost every corner of the stadium. There were more Fiji flags in the stand than any other flag.

National captain Osea Kolinisau dedicated the victory to all in Fiji.

The euphoria of winning had some fans with half their bodies out of their cars waving Fiji flags and screaming “go Fiji go”on the Las Vegas freeway.

National coach Ben Ryan said the support from the Fijian community had been tremendous.

Fiji currently leads the World Series Standings with 91 points, second place is South Africa with 86 points, in third place is New Zealand with 82 points, Australia is fourth with 73 points. - Fiji Times/ PNC