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Sewer related disease outbreak at Mt Gay Housing Scheme

The Ministry of Health is investigating a disease outbreak connected to the handling of a sewer system managed by the state-owned National Water and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) in the Mt Gay Housing Scheme in St George’s.

Health Officers have been visiting residents who were hospitalised after being bitten by the Culex Pipiens mosquito which is known to spread a variety of diseases.

The sewer tanks have remained uncovered for the last three years since NAWASA took over management and the situation has now developed into a full blown health crisis as people have begun to fall sick as a result of bites from mosquitoes that breed in the tanks.

Health officials have described the health crisis as “very bad” adding that the amount of Culex mosquitoes being bred in the sewer is sufficient to affect even nearby villages such as River Road.

The sewer system, which serves hundreds of homes, has been problematic since the beginning of settlement of the Chinese-built housing scheme in 2014 and even after being put into the hands of NAWASA the problems remain unsolved.

The system is constantly overflowing resulting in untreated sewer flowing into public roadways and the sewer gases have made life difficult for residents of the housing scheme and the nearby Mt Gay Mental Hospital.

Several months ago General Manager of NAWASA, Christopher Husbands said the only solution would be to construct an entirely new system which he said will happen.

Two years ago after assuming management of the facility, NAWASA began charging residents for sewer services although the problems remain.

The Ministry of Health is expected to bring samples of the mosquitoes to the St George’s University (SGU)for further investigation and the patients interviewed by health officers have not been told what disease is affecting them, only that it is as a result of the Culex mosquito.

The Culex pipiens – unlike the aedes aegypti which breeds in clean water and causes dengue – breeds in faeces and the uncovered sewer tanks at the housing scheme is a perfect environment for it to thrive.

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The Ministry of Health is also expected to order that NAWASA covers the tanks.

They have been left open for the last three years to facilitate the method which NAWASA uses to maintain the facility although wooden covers were substituted for the original concrete slab covers which require heavy equipment in order to move them.

Since taking over management of the sewer, NAWASA has employed a team of five men to wash and replace the coarse sand which acts as a filter in the tanks.

Both children and adults have been affected by illness from the mosquito bites and health officers have been making the rounds to interview the affected people.

At first some residents believed their illnesses were related to the aedes aegypti mosquito and that they were affected by dengue fever.

Workers at the Vector Control Unit, Ministry of Health have been active in the area treating breeding sources and fogging but the mosquito population has been increasing rapidly according to residents.

One member of the Vector team explained that their efforts would not be effective because “the NAWASA tanks are responsible” for the uncontrollable mosquito problem.

When the matter was raised with Health Minister Nickolas Steele less than a month ago, he said that he would take it up with the NAWASA General Manager but so far there is no evidence that any action has been taken.

The Ministry of Health is yet to make an official statement on this emerging health crisis although they have been working with a list of names of affected persons.

Attempts to speak with the NAWASA General Manager as well as the Communications Department of the utility have been unsuccessful.