Haiti (MNN) — Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus normally found in Asia and Africa, has made its way to Haiti.
Its symptoms are similar to dengue fever, and it has no cure, says Starfysh founder Dr. Steve Edmondson. While the disease isn’t deadly, the pain it causes keeps people in bed for days–sometimes even weeks.
“I spoke to one gentleman who has had dengue…and he said it [Chikungunya] was worse than the dengue,” shares Edmondson. “It’s a very severe flu-like syndrome. It’s characterized by usually a high fever, which is followed by intense joint and muscle pain.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Chikungunya was first reported in the Caribbean last December. At last count in March, there were more than 8,000 suspected infections in the Caribbean. Haiti’s Public Health Director recently told Edmondson that the Port-au-Prince and La Gonave region holds at least 500 reported incidents.
Normally, La Gonave avoids most of the serious illnesses that impact Haiti’s mainland. They’ve encountered their fair share of cholera, Edmondson shares, but 12 miles of open water between La Gonave and the mainland serve as a natural buffer.
“There is some insulatory effect. Just because some things are reported on the mainland of Haiti doesn’t mean we’ll soon see it on La Gonave,” says Edmondson.
“It stands to reason that we will eventually, but it didn’t take long at all for this Chikungunya thing to show up.”
Dr. Edmondson says a great number of severe flu-like illnesses are being reported on La Gonave right now, and he suspects many of them are indeed Chikungunya infections. Starfysh workers are helping however they can, but they can’t do much beyond treating the symptoms: muscle and joint pain, fever, headache, nausea, etc.
By caring for people in their time of pain, however, Starfysh workers are forming relationships with people that pave the way for Gospel conversations.
“When we get seriously ill, we start to think very seriously about life…and because of that, people are very receptive to talking about spiritual things,” Edmondson notes. “When things are going great, we kind of find ourselves confident in our own abilities, and we’re not as receptive to the Gospel and the plans God has for us. But when we’re sick, we pay much more attention.
“That’s where Starfysh, and other organizations that bring the Gospel and the Good News of Jesus Christ, come in.”
Edmondson and Starfysh want to do more than treat symptoms, when it comes to La Gonave’s medical needs. That’s why they’re training a community health educator and forming a Remote Mobile Medical Unit.
Temporary care will do for this current, non-deadly outbreak of Chikungunya. But more work is needed for Starfysh, if they want to have the capability to respond during outbreaks of malaria or dengue fever on La Gonave.
“We don’t want to wait for the problem to present itself before we start getting ourselves organized,” says Edmondson.
“We are just an e-mail away if somebody would say, ‘I’d love to raise money for a mosquito net,'” Edmondson says. “We can get mosquito nets very inexpensively, and we can be very effective with very few dollars.”