CARICOM heads agree Zika plan

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders are considering a cut in import taxes on essential public health supplies such as insect repellents, insecticides and insecticide-treated bed nets in a bid to eradicate the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

At the just concluded 27th Intercessional Summit in Belize, the leaders agreed a plan to tackle the Zika virus, which health officials say poses a threat to unborn children.

A statement from the CARICOM Secretariat said if approved, the lower taxes would remain in place for the duration of the Zika epidemic in the region.

With six CARICOM countries reporting cases of the mosquito borne virus, the regional leaders decided to “implement measures” at ports of entry, health facilities, schools, private enterprises such as hotels and other tourism businesses, factories and other commercial operations “to render them free” of Aedes Aegypti breeding sites.

They also agreed to observe the second week of May as Caribbean Mosquito Awareness Week during which they plan to undertake public education campaigns about the spread of Zika, dengue, and chikungunya – all diseases spread by the mosquito.

“We have asked CARPHA [the Caribbean Public Health Agency] and the CARICOM Secretariat to report to the Council for Human and Social Development on Health (COHSOD-Health) on the implementation and effectiveness of the course of action,” the statement read.

In addition to Zika, the leaders also discussed the vexing issue of crime and agreed to increase cooperation and collaboration in arresting the problem, the statement said.

It said Trinidad’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley who has lead responsibility for security in the quasi Cabinet was the first to sign a protocol amending the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to incorporate the Council for National Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE) as an organ of the Community and the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) as a CARICOM institution.

The leaders established a high-level advocacy group led by Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne “to create greater international awareness of the challenge confronting the Community”.

They also appointed Secretary General Erwin LaRocque for another term.

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