JACK NIEDENTHAL: As of Friday of last week, we have now had nine confirmed cases of dengue 3 and over 103 cases of people who are presenting the same symptoms. We don’t try to confirm every case, ’cause once people start showing up at our clinics and hospitals, we pretty much realise that it is dengue 3 and that’s how we’re treating them. That’s as of Friday, and only on Ebeye. We have not had any cases yet on Majuro, where I am now, and also on the outer islands. This is just for Ebeye on Kwajalein Atoll.
JENNY MEYER: Ok and I understand the government has issued a State Emergency and some restrictions?
JN: Correct. The President and the Cabinet have issued a State of Health Emergency and in accordance with that my office has issued a travel advisory. We’re not allowing any boats or ships or planes to travel from Ebeye to any of the outer islands in Kwajalein Atoll or to any outer islands in the Marshall Islands.
JM: What advise is the Health Department giving to people to deal with this?
JN: We have already begun a massive information campaign for people to understand what this disease is all about. Mostly it involves really keeping the area around your houses clean and free of any stagnant water. And we are encouraging people to put on mosquito repellent when they go outside. Especially in the, just at sunset and sundown are the two critical times when these mosquitoes really, it’s a mosquito borne disease, so these are the critical times when a lot of the mosquitoes tend to gather and bite people. So we’re advising people to take care of that. And also we’re encouraging people that if they get any of these dengue like symptoms, the fever, the rash and sometimes conjunctivitis and headaches behind the eyes, it’s pretty obvious if you get hit with this thing, we’re encouraging them to report immediately to the hospital.
JM: And what about the health resources on Ebeye itself, how are they coping?
JN: I’ve been really remarkably proud of how the local government there and how our medical people there have responded to this. They’ve really had a huge community effort. And as they report in almost every day we get some kind of report from them. Our health staff, the hospital’s really taxed and they’re exhausted. But they’ve maintained and they’ve been very diligent in their work. And again we’re going around to house to house telling people to clean things up. The local government there has really worked hard making sure the travel is restricted to their outer islands in Ebeye and also to the outer islands. We’ve already had to turn one ship back, that the travel advisory had been issued after the boat had, the ship had departed here in Majuro. But now these people are going to have to return to Majuro because they can’t continue on their voyage that was going to go to Mejit and Kwajalein and then Rongelap. So we’ve had to turn boats around. We also had to prevent a tourism boat from going to Bikini Atoll because they were going to embark from Ebeye. So we’ve had to cancel that. And we really appreciate everybody co-operating with this. Because we did have a dengue outbreak in 2011. And I’m not sure if you understand, it was a different kind of dengue, and when you get two different, if you get dengue a second time and it’s a different kind, it can be very dangerous, people can haemorrhage. So this makes this outbreak even more dangerous than the one we experienced in 2011.
JM: So far no deaths?
JN: No deaths, and like I said people have been, this is only on Ebeye right now but people there, I’m really proud to be part of this Ministry and how we’ve reacted to that and how the Kwajalein Atoll local government has reacted to this issue. We haven’t had any deaths yet and we seem to have the situation under control. Our hospital is packed. And we’re actually trying to hurry up and build actually extra quarters so people can be quarantined. Usually with mosquito nets repellent, making sure that they don’t get bit more by mosquitoes and then transmit the disease. We’ve also had some really good response from the international community. From the CDC in the US and WHO is sending us, to Majuro here, more testing kits. Because we haven’t gotten hit yet here in Majuro, but we’ve had to send all of our test kits up to Ebeye. So those should be arriving within a couple of days. So we’ll be ready for it here. Like I said, we have meetings almost everyday to discuss what to do here.
JM: Are you monitoring the situation there in Majuro, a much bigger population I guess so it would have an even more huge impact?
JN: Yeah, the last time we had 1600 cases here in 2011. It’s quite frightening because of the weather. The last four or five days has just seen downpours of rain here. Which creates a lot of environments for the mosquitoes to breed. And it has us all kind of nervous. So I’ve cancelled all non-essential travel for our Ministry. And making sure people stay here and that we’re standing watch and we’re being as diligent as we can to try to prevent this from happening here in Majuro. But if it does happen, I’m pretty sure we’re prepared for it.