World Health Day, celebrated on April 7th every year, marks the founding of the World Health Organization in 1948 and is a unique opportunity to draw worldwide attention to a subject of major importance to global health. In 2014, World Health Day focuses on vector-borne diseases. Vector-borne diseases are illnesses caused by viruses and other germs that are transmitted by mosquitoes and other insects in human populations.
Vectors are organisms that transmit viruses and parasites from one infected person (or animal) to another, causing serious diseases in human populations. Many of these vectors are bloodsucking insects which ingest disease-producing microorganisms (pathogens) during a blood meal from an infected host (human or animal) and later inject it into a new host during their subsequent blood meal. Mosquitoes are the best known disease vectors. With just one bite they can transmit diseases such as Malaria, Dengue, Leismaniasis, Lyme disease, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, Chikungunya, Zika, Filariasis, etc. Other vectors include ticks, flies, fleas and bugs.
Every year there are more than 1 billion cases and over 1 million deaths from vector-borne diseases globally. Vector-borne diseases account for 17% of the estimated global burden of all infectious diseases. These diseases are commonly found in tropical and sub-tropical regions and places where access to sanitation systems is problematic. Their distribution is determined by a complex dynamic of environmental and social factors. The most deadly vector-borne disease, Malaria, caused an estimated 627,000 deaths in 2012. Fortunately, the mosquito that carries this disease does not exist in FSM yet. However, the world's fastest growing vector-borne disease is Dengue, with a 30 times increase in disease incidences over the last 50 years.
Globalization of travel and trade, and environmental challenges such as climate change are having a significant impact on disease transmission in recent years. Some diseases, such as dengue, Chikungunya and West Nile virus are emerging in countries where they were previously unknown. As of March 24, 2014 the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network reported at least one on-going outbreak of vector-borne disease (dengue, Chikungunya or Zika) in eleven (11) Pacific Island Countries plus Queensland, Australia. There is currently an outbreak of Chikungunya in Yap State and as of March 20, 2014 the Yap Department of Health Services reported 1,711 cases from all the municipalities of the main island of Yap and three of the outer islands. Outbreaks of dengue have occurred in Yap in 2004, 2007 and 2012, and in Kosrae in 1996 and 2013. There were also two cases of dengue confirmed during a recent investigation of acute febrile illness in Chuuk in 2012. It is likely that the main vectors (Aedes species of mosquito) for dengue, Chikungunya and Zika also exist in Chuuk and Pohnpei, so there is potential for an outbreak of these diseases if we do not take the necessary measures or actions to protect ourselves and our families from these serious vector-borne diseases.
Simple measures that can taken to protect people include the following:
Ø Avoid mosquito or insect bites;
Ø Use insect repellant;
Ø Wear light-colored, long sleeved shirts and pants;
Ø Sleep under an insect-treated bed net;
Ø Install window screens;
Ø Clean-up around homes and get rid of stagnant water from places where mosquitoes breed, such as in old containers (e.g., cans and coconut shells), flower pots and used tires;
Ø Raise community and public awareness on vector-borne diseases;
Ø Avoid travel to areas where there is an outbreak of vector-borne disease; and,
Ø Get vaccinated again yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis, if you travel to countries where they are endemic.
FSM Department of Health and Social Affairs and the World Health Organization, in partnership with States Department of Health Services and other States agencies, are raising public awareness on vector-borne diseases and other important public health issues beginning on April 7th and beyond. Though 2014 World Health Day is emphasizing the prevention and control of vector-borne diseases, the significance of this day to the overall and wellness of a person, a community and a population should be encouraged as a priority on this day and every day.
For more information on World Health Day and vector-borne diseases, please contact the respective Department of Health Services, Division of Public Health in your State or the FSM Department of Health and Social Affairs at the following numbers:
Yap Department of Health Services: 350-2114/2115
Chuuk Department of Health Services: 330-2210/2216/2217
Pohnpei Department of Health Services: 320-2214/2215/2216
Kosrae Department of Health Services: 370-3199