The Community Disaster Response Team (CDRT) for Region 6 meet for a briefing to discuss the upcoming community Zika prevention outreach in #64.

By Gennike Mayers, IFRC

“We go about educating persons in our community about the Zika virus: how they contract Zika, how it’s being spread and at the same time we are on the lookout for breeding sites for the Aedes mosquito,” says Teddy Sukhdeo, Team Leader for the #64 Community Disaster Response Team (CDRT). Sukhdeo is 34 years old and has been volunteering with the Guyana Red Cross since 2014. He lives in the village #64, also known as Babylon, which is located in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region 6, one of Guyana’s ten administrative regions.

“Once there are breeding sites it means that there will be more and more mosquitoes and there is a possibility that persons can get infected with Zika. As long as there are mosquitoes and they bite somebody who is infected, then the entire community can become infected. So our task is to go about sharing the correct information, letting them know how to protect themselves and their immediate family, and help them to eliminate breeding sites from around their homes,” explains Sukhdeo.

As a water treatment plant operator with the Guyana Water Inc., Sukhdeo knows how important it is for people to have access to clean water. As a Red Cross volunteer he knows how important it is to ensure that mosquitoes do not have access to clean, standing water which is their primary breeding ground. In Region 6, it is very common for villagers to use plastic barrels to collect and store rain water.

Sukhdeo and his team of community volunteers visit communities which have reported an increase in mosquitoes. By word of mouth it is fairly easy to know which areas need to be targeted as a matter of priority. The volunteers look out for these popular plastic barrels when they go from house to house as it is the most common breeding ground found around people’s homes. However, there are other unsuspecting breeding sites such as stagnant water in the drains and certain flowering plants like heliconias which store water with their exotic flowers.

“We share flyers, posters and we did a slideshow on the Zika virus which we show on our phones because we noticed that when we show people the information, they tend to grasp the messages better than if we just tell them,” says Sukhdeo. This innovative slideshow with an audio narrative also has the advantage of being played aloud for persons who are visually impaired, while persons who are hearing impaired can see the information presented on the screen.

The #64 CDRT has been targeting pregnant women, women of child-bearing age and the elderly as they are most vulnerable to complications associated with the Zika virus. Pregnant women who become infected with the Zika virus run the risk of giving birth to a baby with microcephaly, which is a condition where babies are born with an abnormally small head. The elderly may also be at greater risk for developing the Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS) if infected with Zika. The latter is a rare condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nerves. The initial symptoms include weakness or tingling sensations usually starting in the legs, but can spread to the arms and face.

Sukhdeo is passionate about his role as a Red Cross community volunteer, “In Berbice most people are farmers and fishermen so they are very busy and don’t have time to educate themselves. When we first went out, people had no idea about Zika. They were asking what is Zika? Some said there is no Zika in Guyana. People were more familiar with Chikungunya and dengue but when we talk to them about Zika most are not aware that this one little mosquito could spread so many diseases.”

Indeed, dressed in Red Cross polos or bibs, the community volunteers are highly visible from a distance when they hit the streets of #64.

“People are happy to let us into their homes to share information. They know that they will get good information from us and something to protect themselves from the mosquito. So they are happy to welcome us,” says Taramatie Prasad, another volunteer who is part of the #64 CDRT.

Tricia Manikaran, a young volunteer says, “We go from house to house helping the villagers and even people in other villages. We explain how they should go about protecting themselves.”

Another member of the #64 CDRT, Pamela Luckhan adds, “I volunteer with the Red Cross because nobody else but Red Cross comes to teach us these things. So I am happy to learn something new and share what I learn with others.”

The Guyana Red Cross society has been actively targeting vulnerable communities with regard to Zika prevention since 2016 under a project implemented in collaboration with UNICEF. This concerted focus on Zika prevention continued in March 2017, as Guyana Red Cross began implementing a new project funded by USAID and coordinated by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies (IFRC).

“The fulfilling thing about volunteering is that you get to meet other people and see that their lives are being changed. They count on you for information to help them to protect themselves and their family. There is information out there that is sometimes fake but they know that Red Cross gives accurate information and it’s really nice to see that they welcome us, they apply the information that we share, that they are protecting themselves. So it’s really good to know that we can save people from getting Zika and the complications that come with Zika. We are helping to save lives,” says Sukhdeo.