Mosquitoes, Litter and Disease – American Samoa has a litter problem that’s breeding and spreading disease

In October of this year the 7th annual Bilateral Health Summit of the Samoa’s. This health summit is held between the Samoa nations of Western Samoa and American Samoa were held in Utulei, American Samoa for 2016. The event covered a variety of topics over the three days of gathering. Some of the focuses being mental health, mosquito spread diseases, alcohol and woman abuse.  As an outsider growing up in the United States, is surprised at the apparent aloofness regarding addictions and abuse.

Image result for mosquito in american samoaThe event itself, while open to the public, did not have a large community participation of non medical personnel. Overall between the two delegations there appeared to be about one hundred people participating consistently over the week. Participating agencies were primarily government bodies and the attitude in general seemed to lack value toward NGO’s.  Catering provided dozens of waste plastics from water bottles, Styrofoam packaging, plastic containers and non compostable sandwich bags.

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The consumption of single use plastics is an epidemic as seen in this photo at a local church gathering.

For me, day two provided some of the most interesting material. The afternoon’s discussions surrounded Dengue, Zikia and other mosquito spread diseases. I leaned a wide spectrum about these diseases. The most important being that most diseases are not from the mosquitoes but spread diseases by going from human to human drawing blood. Over the last decade, both countries have endeavored to study and understand the impacts and causes of these diseases. This unfortunately is where the similarities seem to end.

What presents a stark difference is the responses to this issue by county. Overall the response to managing mosquito spread diseases is to manage the mosquitoes. To manage this problem in Western Samoa, agencies have taken drastic steps in several key areas. The biggest of these is trash management. Steps that were taken were to clean up the island by cleaning all trash throughout all villages. This included tire cleanup, fines for litterbugs and instituting a recycling program. Additionally the press has stayed involved, pressing the importance of litter control in this article. One of the ways villages were motivated to clean up their pollution was to open up tourism in villages by having visitors stay with families throughout the island, invoking island pride by having beautiful surroundings for their guests. Through instituting a recycling program, waste management practices became standardized and the understanding of individual responsibility became widespread.  Additional measures included the spraying of airplanes at the airport to reduce the chances of transferring mosquitoes from island to island, thus spreading more diseases to various islands.

Conversely, while American Samoan Heath Department officials recognize the importance of these programs but gathering inter-agency support appears to be an insurmountable task. Less than 16 hours after these presentations this example was seen in the attitude of American Samoa’s EPA director, Mr. Ameko Pato, who stated that recycling want a priority of the agency’s agenda. This is in direct contrast to both the stated needs of the Health Department and a planning meeting held with Region 9 EPA Director in July 2015.  Litter and trash reduction are important in some areas of the islands government agencies.  Radio advertizing can often be heard, ” I ain’t your momma; pick it up!”.  Additionally there are efforts by the American Samoa EPA  who are focused on a strictly voluntary program called “Keep American Samoa Beautiful” or KASB for short.  While this program was started in 2013, efforts to expand this program and enhance it’s efficiency are definitely needed.  Various attempts to join members of the community to clean up litter in American Samoa will leave one wanting…

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A Snail crawls over a littered Gatorade bottle – an example of mosquito breeding grounds in the jungle.  This plastic bottle could take more than 300 years to decompose.

 

 

Efforts to work with the Corral Reef Advisory Group, another community entity focused on cleaning beaches and preventing pollution from getting into the ocean – have provided little to no results, with email responses taking months at a time to be responded to; turning efforts from at least two faith based efforts away from this valuable community effort over the last 6 months of 2016.  Additional efforts, like charging fines for littering constantly face an uphill battle.  In 2016 legislature finally came out with plans to charge fines for littering – yes in 2016!!!! The responsibility falls among a variety of groups including EPA and other government officials as well as local village aumaga ( a group of men with no title who serve the village chief), but largely is NOT A POLICE RESPONSIBILITY.

Why is it important to work together to clean up trash, especially litter on an island?  The answers are quite simple.  First of all, in tropical environments there is only one season.  It’s nice out.  That nice can mean rain and sunshine or just sunshine all day long, with spritzes of rain.  Rain brings water, water – STANDING WATER – provides the breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“Trash. All manner of trash, with rain water collecting in it, can be home to mosquitoes. This can be the case in many places you didn’t think of, such as a pile of lumber scraps, old mop buckets, hub caps, and tires. Patrol your property after every period of rain and dump out anything that collects water – and you might want to keep anything that collects water overturned or in the garage so that it doesn’t become a problem in the first place.” – from the website SkeeterBite

Mosquitoes suck.  Currently there are 12 different species of mosquitoes in American Samoa according to this press relase by the American Samoa Community College. Mosquito spread diseases are on the rise in American Samoa and according to the speakers at the conference, the majority of those infected are never tested due to a lack of capacity to test for the disease.  These diseases include Zikia, Dengue, filariasis and chikungunya.  With growing levels of pollution, there are growing levels of mosquitoes.  The only way to solve this growing problem is to clean up the trash and prevent it from accumulating around your home.   The most important space, to protect your home – is to ensure the removal of trash from about 300 feet in any direction, and to lead by example.

 

 

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