The Fruits of ZAP Jamaica
ZAP Goes Beyond Mosquito Control, Building Community through Household Visits
With lush green forest and crystal blue waters lapping white sand beaches, Jamaica seems like an easy place to live by reggae king Bob Marley’s lyrics “don’t worry about a thing.” But things aren’t always worry-free. In fact, when the mosquito-borne Zika virus broke out in 2016 not long after the chikungunya virus epidemic that sickened more than 70 percent of the tropical island’s population, people were absolutely worrying.
Ametto Speid, a resident in the country’s northeast parish of Portland, said, “Chikungunya was a horrible thing. I was so weak that I couldn’t walk. I had a fever, rash and my joints hurt. Everyone got it – all eight people in my household. It was really scary. When people started getting sick with Zika, we got really scared again.”
The Zika and chikungunya viruses are spread through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also known to carry dengue and yellow fever. The Zika virus can lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, and if infected during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, such as microcephaly.
In October 2017, the United States Agency for International Development launched the Zika AIRS Project (ZAP) in Jamaica, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the University of the West Indies, to prevent, detect and respond to the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, specifically the Zika virus.
ZAP conducts entomological monitoring and surveillance, raises community awareness, and applies an organic insecticide to kill mosquito larvae before they can develop into adults and spread disease. The project is also building the government’s capacity to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate vector control activities to prevent Zika transmission and other vector-borne diseases in the future. A large part of the project includes household visits by ZAP technicians who monitor for the presence of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. During monthly visits, the technicians educate community members on how these diseases spread and how to eliminate and prevent breeding sites. As needed, the technicians treat breeding sources with an organic larvicide that kills mosquitoes before they can mature into adults.
“Since ZAP started coming,” said Speid, “there have been fewer mosquitoes, so I can sleep well at night. It’s nice having the technicians come. They encouraged me to put my trash into bins and not leave it in the yard. Now we know that if there’s any water collected in the yard to turn it over. I hardly see any mosquitoes now. We learned a lot from them. Since this program started, hardly anyone has been affected by disease carried by mosquitoes.”
The Aedes aegypti can breed in large or small amounts of water, including something as miniscule as a bottle cap or a piece of plastic. Household beneficiary Thomas Davis said, “I’m afraid of the mosquito and its diseases. If the technicians hadn’t educated us on what we have to do to reduce the number of mosquitoes, we would have left our water drums open and people would have gotten sick.”
Through the continuity of household visits and the visible reduction in mosquito density, ZAP has developed trust and friendships within the communities. Because ZAP technicians need access to households to collect mosquito samples to monitor vector density, longevity, and behavior, this trust is essential. Furthermore, community acceptance is key to effective change as vector control is an ongoing effort that requires everyone’s involvement.
ZAP Vector Control Technician Malika Sampson said the household beneficiaries have offered her breakfast, tea, and fruits.
“When the people see us in the street, they call out to us to visit, and the children often start singing songs about mosquito control. It feels good to be doing something that gives back to the community,” said Sampson.
Giving back goes both ways. When ZAP technicians discovered householder Mary Oakey was in need of a new water barrel, they reached out to the community for a donation. Without running water, Oakey was entirely dependent on rainfall and reliable water storage. Neighbor Madge Ferguson donated a drum to Oakey to help her keep her water clean and covered. “ZAP has helped us to keep away the mosquitoes. They are doing important work, and I wanted to help my neighbor.”
During household visits, ZAP field staff often come across people who need help. ZAP field coordinator Shericka Johnson and her team wanted to do more for the communities so she arranged for a community food drive and clean up during their time off.
“Everyone pitches in,” Johnson said. “We bought food, cooked and handed out food in Kingston on a Saturday. Two weeks later, we did it again in Marin Bay in St Thomas. I’ve always wanted to help people. One of my technicians told me about an elderly person who needed help. So we cleaned up her house and yard. We gave her a pedicure, combed her hair and bought gas for her stove. In Portland, there was an elderly lady who was sick and her husband cooked for her outside. We chipped in and bought them a two-burner stove.”
With the benefits of ZAP going well beyond mosquito control and prevention, Jamaicans can more easily heed Bob Marley’s advice not to worry “cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”