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THE Ministry of Health on Wednesday handed over the keys to six vehicles, valued at some $12 million, to the four main regional authorities, in an effort to further enhance the work of the Vector Control Programme.

Speaking at the handing over ceremony at the ministry's offices in downtown Kingston, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson said the vehicles would facilitate the movement of officers when carrying out fogging exercises across the island.

He noted that the provision of adequate and reliable transportation was important for the regions to effectively reduce vector related diseases. "Jamaica's vulnerability to natural disasters, droughts, storms and hurricanes, requires that the vector management and control programme is consistent, sustainable and effective," said the minister.

The country, he added, has effectively maintained a vector management programme, which has been scaled up appropriately to address emerging situations. He added that Jamaica also continues to make investments, with funding support, to strengthen the national surveillance capacity and laboratory capabilities.

"Since 2008, Jamaica has been classified as an endemic malaria country with low risk of transmission, following the 2006 malaria outbreak which saw the re-emergence of the disease after 39 years of enjoying malaria free status," Dr Fergusaon said.

He pointed out that last year only two locally transmitted cases of the disease were identified, compared with 15 cases in the 2009/2010 period. "There were, however, 10 imported cases of malaria last year, which is a stark reminder that Jamaica is still vulnerable to a reintroduction of new strains of the parasite which caused the outbreak in 2006," he said.

The country, he noted, has also experienced three dengue outbreaks since 1990, pointing out that the disease remains endemic in many parishes.

The minister said that data has shown that malaria and dengue are concentrated in marginalised communities and affect the poor disproportionately. "The State has an obligation to work collaboratively with communities to identify, treat and destroy breeding sites and to assist householders to adhere to good practices that will contribute to successful vector management in the country," he said.

Two vehicles were handed over to the Southern Regional Health Authority, due to the challenges faced by officers in the region with respect to terrain and also because it is the largest region in terms of its land mass.

Directors of the North, South East and Western Regional Health Authorities were each handed the keys to a motor vehicle. The health minister said one of the vehicles would remain at the head office, which would enable the ministry to make immediate interventions if the need arises.

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