#Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands – October 20, 2018 – A record 30 million stay-over visitors to the Caribbean region in 2017 did well to mask the damage that a classification by the World Health Organization, as a region still laden with cases of the terrifying Zika virus, was having upon travel bookings.
Ever since the emergence of the virus within our hemisphere, there has been fear about the mosquito borne disease, which can result in, among other things babies being born with microcephaly or a small head.
It is a frightening risk that pregnant women and women wanting to become pregnant have steered clear of taking, especially once the American Centers for Disease Control added the Caribbean to the damning list. It became immediately clear that Zika’s prevalence in our region – whether perceived or real – loomed largely in the decision of where people chose to spend their holidays.
Suffice it to say, CARPHA’s announcement on Thursday was a welcomed one for the Caribbean, including the Turks and Caicos Islands.
CARPHA’s statement explained: “This removal by the WHO comes on the heels of data released by CARPHA, giving evidence that the Zika virus transmission in the Caribbean had been interrupted for over 12 months, or was at undetectable levels, thereby posing very little risk to residents and visitors to the Region. This was matched by data shared with CARPHA by Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States of America, which showed that no Zika had been detected for over 12 months in travelers returning from the Caribbean to their countries.”
A year free of Zika and a letter penned to demand a re-classification has made all the difference for the region and CARPHA member states. The member countries are now removed from Category 1, where Zika is prevalent to Category 3, which means there is no Zika transmission.
“Last year I had the opportunity to engage with travel agents from around the world and was told of the importance of having the Turks and Caicos removed from the list, especially as my Government through the Change Document, to market the Turks and Caicos Islands as a wedding destination.”
Premier Sharlene Robinson in a Friday media meeting explained that it was a team effort including the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the US Consulate, however Robinson gave highest commendation to the diligence of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, CARPHA and CARICOM.
“Over the past year there have been efforts by my government to have the TCI removed, having had no new transmissions recorded and having seen other countries removed,” the Premier added, “But are thrilled at the positive results of the advocacy led by CARPHA and CARICOM which resulted in the removal of the entire classification.”
The Premier revealed that the tourism and travel agents of the Turks and Caicos Islands welcome the development.
In 2016, statistics shed an unfavorable light on Latin America and the Caribbean. An April 2017 report in NPR or National Public Radio online quoted the Centers for Disease Control. Figures exposed that in 2016 there were 1600 cases of Zika reported in pregnant women in the United States. Fourteen Latin American and Caribbean countries were cited as the places the women had visited and were considered the origin of the disease.
“Of those women with laboratory evidence of Zika virus, there were 77 reported pregnancy losses and 51 babies born with birth defects, including 43 babies with microcephaly or brain abnormalities. Other babies had eye abnormalities or neural tube defects,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC at the time of the article.
The Turks and Caicos Ministry of Health reported in July that the country had gone 18-months with no new cases of Zika reported.