Story Highlights The UWI’s engagement is being facilitated through its collaboration with the Ministry of Health, and involves the establishment of a Mosquito Control and Research Unit at the tertiary institution’s Mona Campus in St. Andrew, which was launched earlier this year by Portfolio Minister, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton. Stakeholders have welcomed the Government’s timely decision to leverage the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) research capabilities to boost Jamaica’s integrated vector management programme aimed at curtailing the prevalence of mosquitoes and minimising the onset and re-emergence of diseases such as dengue fever; malaria; the Zika virus; and the Mayaro virus, which was recently detected in Haiti. UWI Pro-Vice Chancellor and Mona Campus Principal, Professor Archibald McDonald, says the Unit’s establishment is long overdue, “given recent developments (relating to) mosquito-borne diseases affecting our island”. Stakeholders have welcomed the Government’s timely decision to leverage the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) research capabilities to boost Jamaica’s integrated vector management programme aimed at curtailing the prevalence of mosquitoes and minimising the onset and re-emergence of diseases such as dengue fever; malaria; the Zika virus; and the Mayaro virus, which was recently detected in Haiti.The UWI’s engagement is being facilitated through its collaboration with the Ministry of Health, and involves the establishment of a Mosquito Control and Research Unit at the tertiary institution’s Mona Campus in St. Andrew, which was launched earlier this year by Portfolio Minister, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton.The Unit, which is the brainchild of Dr. Tufton, will coordinate best practices in integrated vector management and research into mosquito control and eradication.Personnel from the Unit will also coordinate work from the resulting collaboration between the Ministry’s Vector Control Unit and the UWI’s research.Other stakeholders that will be incorporated include the UWI’s International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS), Jamaica Red Cross, Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and the National Youth Service (NYS).The Unit is expected to spearhead a pilot project to sterilise mosquitoes, utilising gamma radiation, within a few months.UWI Pro-Vice Chancellor and Mona Campus Principal, Professor Archibald McDonald, says the Unit’s establishment is long overdue, “given recent developments (relating to) mosquito-borne diseases affecting our island”.He argues that following the onset and re-emergence of these diseases, “the benefits of establishing a Unit like this will produce significant rewards in the protection of national and regional health”.“It provides our country with an opportunity to explore the biological, scientific and social issues that lay the foundation for effective mosquito control (and) will benefit our research and scientific expertise in health, vector control and well-being,” the Pro-Vice Chancellor states.Professor McDonald points out that UWI researchers are investigating molecular targets in both vector and viral pathogens for overcoming the insect’s resistance, and are searching for new lead drug molecules that can counter this challenge.“They are also in the process of establishing a programme for the screening of mosquitoes for viruses and parasites, which provides an early warning system before epidemics explode in the human population,” he adds.While expressing “profound regret” that the Unit was not established earlier, Professor McDonald, nonetheless, welcomes it “as the University believes that our input (will) play a significant role in managing and controlling mosquito-borne diseases”.“This collaborative venture will allow us to take our work a step further and conduct our research on a national basis in order to be able to establish an effective response programme that protects our citizens from the spread and impact of (mosquito-borne) diseases,” he adds.President of the Jamaica Red Cross, Dr. Dennis Edwards, also describes the Unit’s establishment as timely, in light of the “precarious” dynamics associated with the movement of persons globally, “with over 100 million (people) on the move… shifting from their homelands to other places (in search of) refuge and (better) healthcare”.“In the Caribbean, it is no less so. We have a large percentage of persons in the Caribbean and the Americas who are displaced and are living in degraded environmental conditions.“So, it is timely and impactful that this venture is under way, and we in the Red Cross, certainly, are open with our branch network across the country to assisting and supporting this,” he adds.Director of the National Public Health Laboratory, Professor John Lindo, says the Unit’s establishment reflects stakeholder recognition that “we will not (successfully) tackle these (mosquito-related) problems if we work in silos and in isolation”.He notes that several other divisions at the UWI are engaged in research on mosquito control which would complement the new Unit’s engagements, citing the Natural Products Institute as one which “has produced some excellent results on insecticide resistance”.“Mosquitoes are a major threat to public health (and) our economy. If we can seamlessly transmit those data to the persons involved in integrated vector management, it will be an excellent win for the country,” Professor Lindo argues.Additionally, he highlights the proposed School of Public Health, “which we hope will take a lead role in this Unit”.“So it is a good time to launch the Unit… (as) there are new technologies emerging to tackle the problem of the mosquito. The UWI’s Mona Campus, of course, is the leader in research in the university system (in Jamaica) and the Caribbean. So we know this marriage of the University’s and Ministry’s talents to tackle this national problem… is going to be successful,” Professor Lindo adds.Senior Director for Community Service at the National Youth Service (NYS), Rayharna Wright, says the entity recognises that its mandate includes empowering young people to behave responsibly in their treatment of the environment.This, she notes, “by keeping their surroundings clean and free of factors that affect the health and well-being”.“As a part of our partnership with the Ministry of Health and its affiliates, we commit to the provision of volunteers to assist with the implementation of projects and activities… (and) look forward to future partnerships as we work together to continue the empowerment and protection of our people, particularly our youth,” Mrs. Wright adds.For his part, Dr. Tufton, who proposed the Unit’s establishment after viewing a similar facility in the Cayman Islands, says it represents a more coordinated and integrated approach to dealing with the “clear and present threat” which mosquitoes and vector-borne diseases pose for Jamaica.“When I became Minister, trying to deal with this issue of mosquito-borne diseases… clearly represented a significant challenge. In order to solve those problems, or certainly contribute significantly to solving them, research has to be done in the context of application,” he says.Noting that this “fits very nicely” with the UWI’s mandate, Dr. Tufton contends that “we think (that), here in Jamaica, we have all the skills and talents (and benefit of) research in the past (and) research that we can do in the future to be able to control the challenges associated with mosquitoes; and that is what the Unit is setting out to do”.