MOSQUITOES

2 02 2011

Mosquito inspectors waiting for their daily briefing and inspection

As anybody from Europe or North America who has ever been on holiday to the Caribbean will know, mosquitoes are a problem in the region. On my first holiday to Barbados, despite spraying myself with protection, staying in a house with mesh on all of the windows and doors and sleeping in a four-poster bed that was covered in netting, I still managed to be bitten something like fifty or sixty times.

Most tourists there have their lower legs covered in painful looking red lumps. In fact, there are hustlers who make a living patrolling the beaches and offering to rub aloe vera onto your bites to ease the itching and swelling.

However, mosquito bites are not just an unsightly irritant. Mosquitoes can also spread the virus that causes dengue fever, a disease that can be fatal and is common in tropical climates. Somebody from England that I know was infected whilst on holiday in Jamaica and, whilst it was not fatal, she became seriously ill.

The Cuban Government takes the threat of dengue fever very seriously. It has a national campaign (la Campana y Lucha Antivectorial) to combat the strain of mosquitoes that spread the disease (Aedes aegypti) and issues advice to the population on how to prevent the mosquitoes breeding, such as covering water sources and not leaving rubbish laying around. This includes a weekly TV bulletin at 9pm on a Monday evening, on the main TV channel. To back this up, there are teams of grey-uniformed inspectors in every town and city, who inspect every building (including houses and apartments) every week and fumigate them. Streets are also fumigated, by lorries, which leave a foul smelling cloud which takes 30 seconds or so to disperse.

Near to my apartment is the local depot for the inspectors. Each morning at 8 am, the inspectors line up in front of the depot, with the contents of their inspection kits laid out in front of them, ready for inspection, like we were supposed to do when I was a London firefighter.

The inspectors are not universally popular, with their power to enter premises and to levy fines if they find mosquito eggs or uncovered water. However, the campaign is very effective in preventing the presence of mosquitoes. I have been in Cuba for five weeks now and have not used protection once, yet have had just two bites in that time.

It is, unfortunately, a different story in the countryside, where it would not be feasible to adopt such measures. When I have been out into the countryside here in the past, once dusk falls, the mosquitoes come out and bite. It’s not just something that affects foreigners such as myself, either. City dwellers suffer similarly and are generally not keen to head out to the countryside for that reason.

The Cuban Government is very effective at mounting health campaigns such as this and in dealing with natural disasters such as hurricanes. Its work in such areas should be a model for other governments in the region to follow, in my opinion.

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