Colombia slow to respond to chikungunya outbreak, says report
The Colombian government was strongly criticized by the National Health Institute in a new report Tuesday for failing to properly prepare for an outbreak of the chikungunya virus.
"The Ministry of Health as well as the municipal and departmental health secretaries have all reacted too late and did not take the necessary measures to prevent the spread of chikungunya,” said Jorge Armando Otalora from the Ombudsman's Office of Colombia in an interview with El Tiempo.
It is estimated that 75,000 cases of the mosquito-borne virus have been reported in Colombia but that figure is a conservative estimate, according to Alba Torres, an epidemiological consultant.
"The number of those affected will be much higher since the most at risk people are those less likely to seek medical help due to costs and a lack of significant health care and therefore they will self-medicate,” said Torres.
There is particular concern for the spread of the disease as the worst affected areas are along the Caribbean coast – a favorite holiday destination for Colombians and foreigners – and along the border with Venezuela.
"We have provided educational advice from the very beginning. On local radio shows there are educational broadcasts,” said Colombian Minister for Health Alejandro Gaviria in response to the criticism. "One can always say that something was lacking but we have been preparing for chikungunya for up to a year before its arrival in Colombia,” he added.
In the Caribbean city of Cartagena alone there have been 11,900 reported cases with the more impoverished districts most severely affected.
A local health official, Hermes Martinez, said chikungunya has spread uncontrollably in some areas due to a lack of proper drainage of rainwater and that the inhabitants of those districts collect rainwater in open receptacles for everyday usage, providing nesting areas for the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits the disease.
President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday encouraged Colombians to seek medical help and not self-medicate as that could complicate the illness. Adding to the difficulty in treating the disease are nationwide reports of shortages of paracetemol, the medication used to treat the disease.
Symptoms of chikungunya include high fever, joint and muscle pain, rashes and headaches. There is no vaccine or specific treatment for the rarely fatal disease but pain medication and rest can provide relief from the symptoms that can last for months.
Last Modified: 2014-12-30 19:04:00
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