Political leaders in the Pacific are being warned that mosquito-borne viruses could have serious social and economic costs for the next five years.
The region is dealing with an unprecedented chain of dengue fever, zika virus and chikungunya epidemics.
The chief medical officer for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Dr Yvan Souares, says countries could have been better prepared as they watched their neighbours grapple with outbreaks.
Dr Souares says rapidly growing international air travel is the main driver of the epidemics, as exemplified by the emergence of zika virus in French Polynesia and its spread to neighbouring New Caledonia via passengers on direct flights.
“New Caledonia has been documenting imported cases from French Polynesia non-stop since late November, and they’re currently facing an epidemic of zika virus,” he said.
Dr Souares says regional governments will have to deal with the impact of the current outbreaks for several more years if a similar situation among Indian Ocean countries several years ago is any indication.
“It took… four years for the Chikungunya virus to go around the islands of the Indian Ocean, by the way generating 1.4 million cases in those four years,” he said.
Dr Souares says if Pacific health experts had been consulted, the current outbreaks sweeping the region could have been forseen.
But he says the emphasis now has to be on increased action and cooperation.
Dr Souares suggests better surveillance of incoming passengers from countries experiencing outbreaks of dengue fever, zika or chikungunya.