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UWI Launches Regional Zika Task Force

For Release Upon Receipt - Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Responding to the growing threat the Zika virus poses to the Caribbean region, The University of the West Indies has launched a regional Zika virus Task Force which will leverage the University’s expertise and coordinate efforts with regional governments, health ministries and other agencies to combat the virus.

UWI Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles announced that Professor Clive Landis, Deputy Principal of The University’s Cave Hill campus in Barbados will chair the Task Force comprising eminent scholars, scientists and public health experts.

Other Task Force members include:

- Ms Angela Rose, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, Chronic Disease Research Centre, UWI Cave Hill campus and member of the Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network and World Health Organisation

- Professor Dale Webber, UWI Pro Vice-Chancellor Graduate Studies and Research

- Professor Dave Chadee,Entomologist, Parasitologist, and expert in vector-borne diseases, UWI St Augustine campus

- Professor Eric van Gorp, Professor of Clinical Virology, Erasmus MC (Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam, Netherlands)

- Dr Francene Gayle, Consultant Neurologist and Lecturer, University Hospital of the West Indies, Jamaica

- Mr Glenford Howe, Senior Programme Officer, UWI Open campus

- Dr Michael Abraham, Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Jamaica

- Professor Winston Moore, Economist, UWI Cave Hill campus

The UWI Regional Zika virus Task Force will help inform an aggressive and scientifically - based prevention strategy to eliminate breeding sites for the Aedesspecies mosquitoes. The Task Force will work closely with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the regional ministries of health to pool resources to research and analyse the Zika virus outbreak and associated health complications in the Caribbean,and conduct economic impact studies and engage with ministries on outbreak preparedness.

A regional observatory will collate, organise and disseminate information about the virus and will make the university’s expertise accessible to researchers, government agencies, schools, health facilities and members of the general public.

The UWI Task Force will also convene a major symposium within the next 3 to 4 weeks involving regional ministries of health, donor agencies, national and regional public health agencies and tourism stakeholders. Furthermore, the Task Force will develop and implement a comprehensive communications strategy for ensuring that information about the virus and its effects is shared broadly with the Caribbean public via radio, television, newspapers, the web and social media platforms.

“The rapid spread of the Zika virus poses serious regional challenges at the levels of public health and safety and sustainable economic development, and as a regional University we have a duty and a responsibility to confront these challenges head-on,” said

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.

Vice-Chancellor Beckles noted The UWI’s vantage from which it can work with international donor agencies in order to access resources to facilitate and implement its strategy, and to collaborate with universities and research teams across the hemisphere.

The UWI not only has a wide range of relevant technical expertise which it can deploy, but also has accumulated experience and developed successful public health strategies through its efforts to help tackle the challenges of HIV/AIDS, Dengue Fever and Chikungunya.

“The Task Force stands ready to throw its full weight and technical capabilities into the fight against Zika virus and we look forward to serving the governments, agencies and peoples of the Caribbean in combating this public health emergency,” said Professor Landis.

He added, “We have been here before with malaria which we successfully eliminated from the Caribbean region, and we can do it again even if this mosquito species presents some extra challenges by breeding in the smallest water reservoirs in and around our homes.”

The World Health Organisation recently announced the spread of the Zika virus to be A Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) that requires the joint efforts of all countries to effectively tackle the problem. The Zika virus now has a classification similar to the Ebola virus and is strongly suspected to be linked to cases of microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains.

Many countries in the Caribbean region have already declared states of emergency over the Zika virus outbreak. Ministers of Health from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have agreed ona harmonised approach to confronting the fast-spreading virus which to date has affected more than 30 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The OECS effort includes monitoring and surveillance, eradication and protection, care and case management, and public education campaigns. Several member states have already started implementing the measures and The OECS Council of Ministers will oversee the harmonisation effort.


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