Marshall Islands Declares ‘Health Emergency’ Over Zika

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Country’s response to virus moves ‘into high gear’

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, March 3, 2016) – Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine has declared a "state of health emergency" to push the country’s response to the Zika virus into high gear. This follows recent laboratory confirmation of one case of Zika in Majuro.

Noting that "pregnant mothers who are infected are at high risk of seeing the development of congenital malformations in their unborn child," the President today issued the proclamation of a health emergency for an initial 31 days. The declaration activates the Ministry of Health’s Epidemiology Network as the "focal point" for action to provide direction, updates and advice to the government’s National Disaster Committee.

The disaster committee "will mobilize government resources — financial and human — needed to support the national Zika virus response plan to include government sectors, agencies and civil society for effective coordination on quarantine and sanitation efforts while the Ministry of Health focuses more on surveillance, patient management and public education/awareness," the declaration said. The emergency declaration also identifies various sources of funding to support action to prevent the spread of the virus.

The president said although only one case of Zika has been confirmed in Marshall Islands, "Zika cases reported in the Pacific region are rapidly increasing and the Marshall Islands is highly vulnerable."

The confirmed Zika case in Majuro is a 25-year-old in an early stage of pregnancy. Laboratory testing of blood from five other suspected cases turned out negative, according to the Ministry of Health on Wednesday.

Spraying to kill mosquitoes is not an immediate option because the necessary equipment and supplies are not available. "What we have is human resources," said Health Assistant Secretary Mailynn Konelios-Lang during meetings with local government officials. "During the dengue and chikungunya outbreaks we used our human resources to clean up," she said.

Because the Zika virus can also be transmitted by blood contact, the hospital has banned blood transfusions for pregnant women.

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