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Education crucial to curbing growing numbers of diseases

Thursday 9 March 2023 | Written by RNZ | Published in Papua New Guinea, Regional


Education crucial to curbing growing numbers of diseases
Dr Leanne Robinson with a blood sample in the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research Lab. Photo: Mayeta Clark/Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

The occurrence of vector-borne disease in the Pacific is growing and people are being asked to do more to counter it.

Various species of mosquito are responsible for spreading malaria, zika, dengue and chikungunya.

A professor at the Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at Australia's James Cook University, Tom Burkot, said urbanisation is a key factor, with one of the main dengue vectors, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, becoming domesticated.

"It lives in close proximity, it lives in our houses, it lays its eggs in buckets of water and tyres and things like that which are around human households.

"So, we create a very suitable habitat for these dengue vectors and I think that is one of the reasons we are seeing more and more challenges, more and more outbreaks of these diseases."

Zika, which causes a rash, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, chikungunya, which causes debilitating joint pain, and dengue are all transmitted by this particular mosquito which tends to bite during the day.

Professor Burkot is part of a programme, overseen by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and involving the Pacific Community, to improve knowledge about what to do to prevent such diseases.

He said there is a need for greater education and more community involvement in surveillance and control.

"It is about trying to implement WHO-recommended best practices, because there are certain measures which are very popular but which aren't necessarily very effective. But other things, which we know from many studies, can be very effective if implemented properly.

"So, part of it is educating the vector control staff, educating the people."

According to the Pacific Community's Regional Epidemic Intelligence System Database from January 2012 to March 7, 2023 there have been 98 newly reported arboviral outbreaks and circulation - 71 dengue alerts, 12 zika and 15 chikungunya - in the Pacific.

Arboviral is a reference to diseases spread by mosquitoes or ticks.

Meanwhile, the WHO has pointed to a 40 percent increase in malaria cases in Solomon Islands between 2015 and 2021, while in Papua New Guinea, where malaria is endemic, numbers are up by 5 percent over the same period with a 25 percent increase in related deaths.

  • Don Wiseman, RNZ Pacific Senior Journalist