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Health officials say report inaccurate

By Helen Greig

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Sept. 24, 2008) – The Ministry of Health is disappointed that the Cook Islands continues to be referred to as having a dengue outbreak.

Public health has contacted the World Health Organisation in an attempt to correct misinformation that the Cook Islands is part of a dengue pandemic in the Pacific.

While the Cooks recently had some suspected cases of dengue, only one type four (bleeding) case was confirmed and there has been no spread of the mosquito-borne disease. That case was picked up by a local in Samoa where there has been an outbreak since July.

Acting health secretary Dr Josephine Aumea Herman says she has contacted WHO’s Samoa office for an explanation of why the Cook Islands has been included with other Pacific countries as having a dengue outbreak in recent regional news reports.

Tourism industry members have been feeling the effects of the misinformation as well, reportedly seeing cancelled and low bookings for accommodation.

A travel wholesaler had even issued a warning in New Zealand about dengue in the Cooks, but that has since been withdrawn.

Tourism industry council president Greg Stanaway says, "Naturally the tourism industry here like any destination is reliant on the accurate reporting of information when it comes to natural disaster, disease or social and political unrest.

"While the recent report on the WHO statement was not a sensationalist type article, the blanket generalised statements about the endemic nature of dengue throughout the Pacific were both untrue and (in my mind) irresponsible. Dengue is not endemic in the Cook Islands."

CI Tourism chief executive John Dean says although there was a slight drop in bookings recently, he doesn’t think the misinformation will effect tourism in the long run.

"Obviously any sort of news like this is going to have some detrimental effect on tourism. It has affected tourism slightly, but it’s over now and its business as usual."

Dean says public health has done a very good job of monitoring the dengue situation.

On 5 September the last notice from public health stated there were no confirmed cases of dengue present in the country.

Herman is meeting with the health protection team tomorrow to evaluate the recent two week tutaka (village clean up). She says they will follow up on high risk mosquito breeding sites as well.

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