It's the first time Tonga has seen an outbreak of the virus, which causes acute fever and joint pain.
Presenter: Catherine Graue
Speaker: Dr Siale Akau'ola, director, Ministry of Health, Tonga
AKAU'OLA: It's a major outbreak as you have rightly mentioned, this is the first time for Tonga to have chikungunya in the country. It has been going on for at least a month now, but I think we feel that we are at its peak now. I think we are plateauing off and we are hopeful that it will start to go down within the coming few weeks.
GRAUE: Now health authorities across the Pacific have warned about such an outbreak with chikungunya, but also dengue fever increasing incident rates in recent months. Is that what you believe that this has come from elsewhere in the region?
AKAU'OLA: Yes, absolutely. As you've probably have heard there are outbreaks in other Pacific Islands and I believe this will the first in the South Pacific area. So with the frequent trips between islands, I'm sure it must have come from one of the other islands.
GRAUE: And you say that it's probably at its peak at the moment. So has it spread quite I understand. Is it causing any serious concerns that obviously leaves patients with acute fever and joint pain, but no deaths from chikungunya at this stage?
AKAU'OLA: Yeah, that's what we believe. Actually we have two deaths, two children who died, but we believe they were from dengue fever, because we had confirmed a handful of cases with positive for dengue a couple of weeks ago and the clinical presentations of those two kids were more towards dengue hemaragic fever rather than chikungunya. So with the thousands of people who have been presenting with chikungunya-like illness, we feel that we also have the dengue, but at a much lower level.
GRAUE: Are you concerned though about the potential for that, we've seen particularly in Fiji really experiencing and struggling with extremely high numbers of people fronting with dengue fever/
AKAU'OLA: Absolutely, we assuming, although we have confirmed a few cases with quick laboratory test, it needs to be referred to an overseas referral laboratory for serology testing. So it has been referred. We're still waiting for results.
Most of the tests done so far have been negative, but we're still sending some samples for dengue, although the only firmed lab test were for chikungunya.
GRAUE: Now with three-thousand people at the moment known to have been affected by chikungunya, are you able to cope with this? I understand that you are seeking some help from the World Health Organisation to kind of manage the outbreak. What are you doing and what more help do you require?
AKAU'OLA: Actually, it's more than 3,000, I believe it's probably more than 10,000. I think it's credit to our staff at the ANE in the various hospitals in the country. They've been flat out for the last couple of weeks. We have rotated some of our clinicians from other parts of the hospital into the ANE to look after these people, but as mentioned. I mean with 10,000 plus cases, two deaths. I think it's not to bad for us.
From our point of view, I think we are managing. As mentioned, I think we're quite hopeful with the epidemic is at its peak.
I think one of the issues that kind of diverted our attention was the recovery, perhaps you heard that Ha'aapi and the central part of Tongatapu is still recovering from that hurricane, so some our efforts have been diverted to that island. But clearly with the quick spread, it means that the mosquitoes are still around, so we're trying to encourage people to do the cleanup, spray for the vector and keep safe, sleep in mosquito nets, so that they're not bitten by the mosquito.
GRAUE: So you are confident that you have both the required number and adequate number of medical staff and resources, medication, etc. to deal with what you are saying are quite huge numbers of people that are being affected by this virus?
AKAU'OLA: Oh yes, for the time being we are fine. I think we are managing, although we are struggling a little bit, but we have asked for technical assistance from W.H.O. they have provided it for Ha'aapi, because they are the vulnerable group. They've provided a strengthening of surveillance for outbreaks and especially for vector-borne diseases but for the main island, I think we are managing OK.