Death toll for disease-hit Reunion reaches 93
PARIS, March 3, 2006 (AFP) - A disabling mosquito-borne disease that has hit the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion has claimed 93 lives, and almost a quarter of the population has been affected, Health Minister Xavier Bertrand said Friday.
The toll of 93 amounted to people whose death was directly or indirectly attributable to the disease, known as chikungunya, he said in a visit to the prestigious Pasteur Institute in Paris.
A total of 186,000 people have fallen sick with the disease in the course of the epidemic, he said. Reunion has a population of 777,000.
France has committed emergency health and economic aid worth 91 million euros (109 million dollars) to Reunion to help it fight the scourge.
Reunion is an ethnically diverse department of France which lies to the east of Madagascar.
Cases have also been recorded in the nearby French island of Mayotte, as well as in the Indian Ocean islands of Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles, and among a small number of Reunionnais arriving in mainland France.
“I am paying particular attention to Mayotte (where) the threshold of 2,000 cases has been crossed,” Bertrand said.
“I want to be sure that we are getting a true picture, and especially that all people who show up at clinics (with chikungunya) are properly recorded” as having the disease, he said.
The French government has been under intensifying criticism for failing to react in time as the epidemic started to unfold in early 2005.
Chikungunya, a disease believed to have originated in Africa, derives from a Swahili word meaning “that which bends up” because of its arthritic-type symptoms that leave victims stooped.
The disease is generally non-fatal and patients eventually recover, although much about it remains unclear.
Some 500 French troops have already been deployed in Reunion to help health workers spray mosquito breeding areas.
The vector for chikungunya is Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, which also transmits dengue fever. The insect has spread far beyond its Southeast Asian home by hitch-hiking a ride in trade shipments, experts say.
Fifteen cases of co-infection, in which patients were struck by both chikungunya and dengue, have so far been reported, Bertrand said.
The crisis has badly affected Reunion’s main industries of tourism and agriculture. Foreign visitors are cancelling vacations, and local farmers are facing a slump in demand for their fruit and vegetables because of worries about toxic insecticides.
On Thursday, the French airline Air France said that reservations for flights between France and Reunion over the next three months had plummeted by 15 percent over normal levels.
Of the 91 million euros earmarked for help, 60 million will be spent in the form of economic aid.
Nine million will be spent on basic research into the disease.
Subject: French news