14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 18 June 2018 — “We used to complain because they were always coming and knocking on the door every week to fumigate and make sure you didn’t have standing water, or a vase of spiritual water or a water tank without a cover,” says Diosdado, 68, who lives in La Timba neighborhood a few yards from the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana.
“But this year, from the times the rains started, they have only come by once and have not finished fumigating all the houses because they ran out of the product,” he adds. “We can hardly sleep with the bombardment from the mosquitos, because this area has a lot of vegetation and there are also many places where rain accumulates, and families with small children have to use mosquito nets all night.”
The abundant rains of recent weeks have not only left Havana with hundreds of homes at risk of collapse but also plunged it into a wave of mosquitoes that residents fear contribute to the spread of diseases such as Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue. The fumigation, which a few years ago was intense at this time of year, has decreased due to the crisis that the country is experiencing.
Until last summer, fumigations inside and outside homes were common. The image of vehicles that left a trail of smoke while driving through the main avenues of the capital became part of the urban landscape. Inspections in the residential areas were also repeated several times a month in search of the feared Aedes aegypti mosquito, a vector of these diseases.
La Timba is a neighborhood that is densely populated with people with low economic resources, and several residents visited the nearby polyclinic April 19. “We have gone several times but the answer is that right now there is little product to fumigate and that it is very difficult for the country, which does not have the resources to carry out massive campaigns like before,” explains Diosdado.
A source from the hospital confirms with this version to 14ymedio. “The rate of infestation in this area exceeds 0.15 and we are prioritizing the most affected parts but we can’t cover everything,” explains a polyclinic worker who preferred anonymity. “Last week they sent us some liquid to fumigate and we are administering it where it is most urgent.”
“In every municipality in the city, the presence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito has been detected,” the source points out. “We are trying to cover the entire capital in the most effective way with what little we have,” she says. “It is not only the liquid to fumigate but also the fuel to start the ‘backpack-motors’ (as the fumigation equipment is popularly known).”
The Cuban economy is still burdened by the worsening of the crisis in Venezuela, which has led to a reduction in bilateral trade and the supply of oil to the island.
Cubans identify fumigation against mosquitoes with the era when Fidel Castro ran the country, because in those years the antivector campaigns were so intense many were annoyed by them. People complained that the inspectors constantly invaded the privacy of their home in search of Aedes aegypti, and were also concerned about the other evils associated with the frequent administration of insecticides.
“The cases of allergy and asthma skyrocketed in those years when it was constantly sprayed,” recalls Yander, a nurse who worked for a decade in the emergency room in a Centro Habana hospital. “We also had several patients who arrived because they had slipped on the liquid left behind on the floor of their house after the fumigation, and one even broke his hip.”
However, Yander says that “all those evils were minor compared to the risk we now have with Dengue and Zika.” The nurse adds that “seeing less fumigation and inspections, people lower their guard and have a lower perception of risk, which is why it is important to warn of the danger.”
Many families have decided to fight the mosquito with their own resources and use small household sprays bought in hard currency stores that promise to kill all insects, or other simpler recipes to avoid bites.
“When we sit down to watch television we put alcohol on our legs and arms to scare off mosquitoes, it’s not perfect but it works,” says Maritza, a retired resident in the Cerro neighborhood, near the well-known Manila Park, an area very affected by the presence of insects.
Orders from the Island to the community of Cuban émigrés, especially those based in South Florida, have increased, asking for incense, lotions and other repellent products and there are many ways to send parcels to the Island. The black market has a wide variety of products, but the prices are out of reach for the poorest families.
“We depend on state fumigation because we can not pay for an anti-mosquito spray that costs more than 3 CUC (roughly $3 US), which is a third of my monthly pension,” says Maritza. “That’s why we use this alcohol, which can be bought in pharmacies much cheaper but it doesn’t totally protect us.”
Hundreds of workers in the antivector campaign have been reassigned to other tasks and in the Provincial Health Department complaints pour in from the residents in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the swarms of mosquitoes. Given the lack of resources, the authorities are appealing to the discipline of the population to inspect their own homes, a practice known in the bureaucratic language as “auto focal.”
A poster stuck up at the entrances of several multifamily buildings in Nuevo Vedado calls for extreme measures, “combat the mosquito” and “immediately report any symptoms” of possible infection. However, unlike other occasions, this medical warning is not accompanied by a fumigation calendar for the area.
In 2017, an extremely dry year on the Island, there was a notable decrease in confirmed cases of Dengue fever. The infections fell by 68% compared to 2016, as reported by the official media at the time. During this period, Zika virus transmission also decreased and there were no reports of a single patient with Chikungunya.
Due to its humid climate, Cuba is a country prone to the proliferation of these arboviruses, a situation that gets worse during the summer with the rains and the greater mobility of the population taking advantage of school holidays to travel between provinces and contributing* to the propagation of these diseases.
Translator’s note: The cycle of infection for dengue and chikungunya requires a female mosquito to bite a person who is infected. Within about a week, the mosquito becomes infected and can then pass it on when it bites other people. These two diseases are not contagious person-to-person or mosquito-to-mosquito. Zika, however, although it is transmitted in the same way, can also be transmitted person-to-person through sex, and it can be transmitted to a child during pregnancy potentially resulting in birth defects than can be very severe.
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