The Jamaican Ministry of Health is using dancehall reggae to warn its citizens to exercise extra caution to avoid creating potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes as the Zika virus pandemic sweeping South America threatens to travel north to the Caribbean.
In a new video titled “We Nuh Want Zik V,” OB/GYN doctor and part-time songwriter/comedian Michael Abrahams teaches Jamaicans how to properly dispose of cans, dumpsters, tires, and anything else that can potentially hold rainwater. “Make sure there’s no water inside,” he warns, instructing to “change the water in your vase every day,” turn over any tires with ridges that can hold water, and punch holes in empty cans so they do not collect water.
“And a special shout-out to pregnant ladies,” he adds. “Protect yourselves and protect your babies.”
While researchers appeared to have been caught off-guard by what was once considered a relatively benign virus, Brazilian medical experts have found a clear, though poorly understood, link between Zika and a number of birth defects when a pregnant woman is bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the virus. Zika appears to particularly trigger instances of microcephaly, a deformity in which an infant is born with a skull too small for the brain, crushing parts of the brain and causing severe neurological damage. Doctors have also recently found evidence that the virus may cause hydrocephalus, an infant deformity in which the skull is filled with fluids that damage the brain.
In adults, experts have found ties between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disease in which the immune system attacks the nerves, causing extreme muscular pains.
Dr. Abrahams, the star of the Jamaican video, also published an editorial in the Jamaica Gleaner, urging Jamaicans to take the threat of Zika seriously. He notes that the Jamaican government has hired 1,000 people to work in communities to eradicate stagnant water pools and make it more difficult for mosquitoes to breed. “Many of us utilize social media to air grouses, complain and criticize, often with good reason,” he writes. “In this case, I invite my fellow Jamaicans to join me and use it to protect ourselves. Please tweet, post, share, text, message and email the link for the MOH document and other information concerning ZIKV to as many people as you can.”
Abrahams has made a name for himself as a comedian/gynecologist, raising awareness of the difficulties of his job. “I tell people, it’s not about the vagina, it is not a vagina thing, it is a woman’s thing,” he says in a 2010 interview, noting that he has had to care for many domestic abuse victims, in addition to cases of “incest and child abuse, going through to puberty issues, to relationship issues, to domestic violence, to gender discrimination, sexual harassment at the workplace, pregnancy, menopause — it’s so many things that women have to deal with.”
He deals with these issues largely with comedy. In a piece titled “So You Want to Be a Gynaecologist?” Abrahams notes that many men tease him for his line of work, as well as “ask strange questions such as, ‘is true seh gynaecologists haffi wear jockstrap?'”
His Zika prevention video is far from his first effort to use rhyme to increase health awareness. “Whether you have big breasts or some itty bitty titty, to pick up cancer in’a dem would be such a pity,” he laments in a video warning women to self-examine for breast cancer.
He has also performed live poetry promoting the legalization of marijuana.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) placed Jamaica on its travel warning list due to its mosquito population, though hospitals have only documented one case of Zika so far. The one case involved a young child who had left the country and contracted the virus abroad. Zika appears to be spreading around the Caribbean, however, with cases in Puerto Rico and Barbados. In addition to the awareness video, the Jamaican Ministry of Health held an event on Saturday titled “Operation Mosquito Search and Destroy” to diminish the threat of Zika.
Doctors in Jamaica report that, despite these efforts, pregnant women appear unfazed by the Zika outbreak. “I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t think the message has hit home hard yet, because when I listen to the comment of the ladies, they are more like ‘Wow, what? An advisory? That sounds extreme,'” Dr. Sandra Knight of the National Family Planning Board said earlier this month. “I have not seen an increase in the anxiety of mothers,” she added.