Battling the Bloodsuckers

Community clean-up (2)

If you’ve endured the itchy results of a mosquito bite, you know how uncomfortable and annoying it can be. But imagine terribly aching joints, skin rashes, muscle pain, or headaches, all accompanied by a fever. These uncomfortable symptoms may indicate contraction of a mosquito-borne disease like Zika, Dengue, or Chikungunya. These diseases are much more than annoying – they can be life-threatening.

With the world watching Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as they prepare for the Summer Olympics and the very real threat of the Zika virus spreading throughout South America and the Caribbean, a non-profit organisation in the BVI is taking serious action.

BugOut is a community-driven initiative led by a coalition of community leaders, residents, business owners, and government representatives to control the islands’ mosquito population and reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya. The programme is focused on eradication of the Aedes Aegypti breed of mosquito as it is the known carrier of these diseases.

Project Layers

Based in Virgin Gorda with initiative efforts reaching Moskito Island, Necker Island and Eustatia Island, BugOut works to educate the public and encourage them to become involved with a ‘you’re only as good as your neighbour’ mentality.

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“We’re starting with the belief that the more people involved, the more information shared, and the more ownership everyone has in the results of the programme, the better,” said Sarina Hancock, BugOut Project Coordinator.

The multi-faceted programme begins with community education and empowerment. With efforts including door-to-door canvassing, public advertising, social media campaigns, and introducing the initiative to schools, BugOut shows the entire community how every effort is important in the fight against mosquitoes.

A sophisticated monitoring programme allows the BugOut team to produce data on current mosquito populations and to include citizens and landowners in creating a crowd-powered, comprehensive, and ongoing picture of mosquito presence in the BVI. This data is then used as a benchmark to ensure initiative efforts are effective and to make necessary modifications if needed. The privately-funded BugOut initiative has the flexibility to adjust initiative efforts more swiftly and with greater effect, offering the community a truly responsive organisation with community betterment as the focus.

“Everyone plays an important role in our monitoring network. With just a few taps of a smartphone, individuals can alert BugOut teams to problem areas, hotspots, and breeding sites, which in turn strengthens our understanding of the conditions throughout the island,” said Grey Frandsen, BugOut project co-chair.

Guided by the island-wide monitoring programme, BugOut’s mosquito control methods begin with the most important component to combating the Dengue and Zika spreading mosquito species by eliminating mosquito breeding sites around every home, business, school, park, and harbour.

Community clean-up (3)

BugOut’s experts have designed an aggressive mosquito control programme in conjunction with the government of the BVI that doesn’t only rely on spraying dangerous chemicals around the islands, but instead deploys an integrated approach that balances the protection of Virgin Gorda’s residents, communities, and tourists.

On top of aggressive source reduction efforts, BugOut’s task force continues to monitor and research aggressive mosquito control techniques that are environmentally safe, eco-friendly and state-of-the-art. Methods may include larvicides, adulticides, auto-dissemination applications, spraying, bait-and-kill, land and beach clean-up, standing water removal, and infrastructure repair.

BugOut is managed by a dedicated Steering Committee that oversees the project and provides guidance and approvals from its membership, comprised of government representatives, private citizens, business and non-profit leaders as well as monetary contributors.

The BugOut Working Group assumes management of day-to-day operations in managerial roles and serves as the main liaison between the community and the Steering Committee. An advanced advisory panel includes local and international experts that ensure the BugOut initiative is utilising the best techniques and technology to effectively abate and control mosquito populations. At the heart of the BugOut initiative are Community Action Groups (CAGs). These highly-organised neighbourhood precincts provide an ultra-localised approach to reporting problem areas and hotspots, distributing important information, delivering assistance to residents, and responding to outbreaks.

This level of community activation ensures that the BugOut Working Group can deploy its resources in a focused, highly-targeted way, and that every citizen is playing her or his role in this programme. Their efforts are critical to ensuring programmes are effective and provide invaluable feedback to the team.

By using a new community activation strategy that combines education, new social and crowd-sourcing tools, and neighbourhood accountability programmes, BugOut is transforming the island’s entire population into a united mosquito-fighting movement. BugOut is the only organisation of its kind in the Caribbean, and its innovative approach has been recognised by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).

“BugOut is a truly community-driven programme that will only be as good as the participation we generate among residents of the BVI. Their participation is critical to BugOut’s success,” said Frandsen, “No matter how busy folks are, there is a role they can play in the BugOut initiative and make a difference.”

Ways to get involved:

Clean Your Home

Mosquitoes live both indoors and out, so maintaining a clean home and property is the first line of mosquito-control defence. Make sure there is no standing water for mosquitoes to lay eggs in. Cover cistern vent pipes with mesh; seal cistern access holes (often indoors).

Fact: As little as a bottle cap full of water is enough for a female mosquito to lay as many as 300 eggs.

Protect Yourself and Your Family

Installing protective screens on windows and doors will discourage indoor mosquito populations. Wearing insect repellent and protective clothing such as long sleeves and pants will also reduce the risk of mosquito bites. Use bed nets when possible.

Fact: Only female mosquitoes bite.

Spread the Word

Share mosquito-control information with your friends and neighbours, and interact with BugOut on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BugOutBVI.

Report Problems

If you see standing water or other potential mosquito breeding grounds in your community, speak up!

For more information on the BugOut organisation, their initiatives and how you can get involved, visit www.BugOutTogether.org

BugOut Jpeg

Sara Sherman
Sara Sherman is a former St. Thomas resident and the editor of Virgin Islands Property & Yacht.
Sara Sherman

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