Gov. John deJongh Jr. and officials from the government and the University of the Virgin Islands know that the world’s climate is changing in a way that could affect everyone. They gathered Friday evening at Government House to mark the start of a program that will make sure residents are prepared.
Academics and experts from UVI, the Medical University of South Carolina and the Department of Health are charged with trying to determine not just how rising world temperatures will affect the health of the Virgin Islands community, but the best way to show citizens how to protect themselves.
“When you change the environment in such a large way, the way people live becomes impacted,” said UVI professor Laverne E. Ragster. Ragster, a biologist by training, heads up the study along with two other professors from the University of South Carolina.
She said warmer temperatures and more intense weather activity brought on by climate change could mean an increase in cases of dengue fever, a virus spread by mosquitoes. She said more intense periods of rain could create a breeding ground for the mosquitoes that spread dengue.
She also said that warmer sea waters could lead to an uptick in cases of ciguatera, an illness contracted by eating contaminated fish. That’s because the warm water creates an attractive breeding ground for the algae that, when eaten by fish, makes the fish toxic for humans.
Ragster said many people in the territory are already facing major health challenges – like HIV, cancer and cardiovascular disease. So it’s important to know what to expect in the face of what could be inevitable – and be prepared to serve their needs.
Professor Sabra Slaughter of the Medical University of South Carolina will be heading up the program with Ragster. He said his institution got involved with the project because they want to do more to help underserved communities.
The program is called "A Collaborative Response to Public Health Challenges Linked to Climate Change Impacts in the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean" and is funded through a grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities.