The Ministry of Health, Agriculture, Sports and Human Services (MHASHS), in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), hosted a 3 day “Post Disaster Surveillance Workshop” at the Atrium Resort Conference room in Providenciales (January 22nd – 24th, 2019). The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Eldonna Boisson, Public Health advisor with PAHO. Dr Boisson possesses over 20 years of experience in infectious disease, epidemiology and field investigation. Participants consisted of 18 staff members from various MHASHS departments including the National Epidemiology and Research Unit, Environmental Health Department, Primary Health Care Department and National Public Health Laboratory. The overall objective of the workshop was to strengthen technical knowledge and capacity for post disaster surveillance. Importantly, the workshop also aimed to develop standardized processes for data collection strategies and methodologies for disease surveillance post disaster in Turks and Caicos Islands.
The geographical location of Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), coupled with its humidity and warm seas, make it vulnerable to tropical cyclones during the Atlantic hurricane season (June through November) of each year. Unfortunately, the threat of these natural phenomena was realized when several major storms made landfall in the TCI. Hurricanes can leave a post disaster situation with many health implications, not the least of which is an increased risk of communicable diseases such as gastroenteritis (diarrhea and vomiting). The conditions that promote gastroenteritis development include 1. Rain/flood water, which may be contaminated with bacteria and viruses, and which may infiltrate the public water supply. 2. Power outages which may compromise the food supply and 3. Displacement caused by the hurricane which may force living conditions that are amendable to the spread of disease. In addition, the risk of dengue an arboviral disease caused by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, is also heightened. This is because flood water provides an environment that mosquito larva can live and grow.
The workshop represented a proactive approach on the part of MHASHS to ensuring that a properly functioning, robust surveillance system is available in the TCI in a post hurricane scenario. When the surveillance process works as it should, it can serve as an early warning system that would trigger intervention/responses which can control the spread of disease. As an important tool in a post disaster situation, the workshop also featured sessions on event based surveillance, an unstructured/non-standardized method of collecting information about health events that could be a serious risk to public health, and outbreak investigation.
For further information please contact the National Epidemiology and Research Unit on 338-3070/338-5066.