More than two billion people at Zika risk

Mapping Zika

Mapping the “environmentally suitable” areas where the Zika Virus could take a foothold.

 

More than two billion people who live in “environmentally suitable” areas around the world are at risk at of being infected by the Zika Virus, a study  from Oxford University in England suggests.

The team of researchers including Oxford’s Moritz Kraemer and Jane Messina concluded that the likelihood of the disease getting a foothold in vulnerable areas from the United States to China, is extremely high. The researchers combined climate data, mosquito prevalence and the socio-economic makeup of each region in the study: Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus.

With the state of Florida already caught up in its own mosquito eradication programme after several infections, researchers have also identified the states of Texas, sections of Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas as vulnerable.

‘Environmental suitability’ also extends to large areas of sub-Saharan Africa, to more than two million square miles of India “from its northwest regions through to Bangladesh and Myanmar”; the Indochina region, southeast China and Indonesia. The study which was  published April 19 this year noted: that roughly 250,000 square miles of Australia are also at risk.

According to the researcher: “Globally, we predict that over 2.17 billion people live in areas that are environmentally suitable for ZIKV transmission”.

The researchers mapped data on the virus from its emergency in 1947 to the present and into the future. The findings indicate that a global area inhabited by 2.17 billion people is ‘highly suitable’ for the transmission of the Zika virus.

2006 Prof. Frank Hadley Collins, Dir., Cntr. for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, Univ. of Notre Dame This 2006 photograph depicted a female Aedes aegypti mosquito while she was in the process of acquiring a blood meal from her human host, who in this instance, was actually the biomedical photographer, James Gathany, here at the Centers for Disease Control. You’ll note the feeding apparatus consisting of a sharp, orange-colored “fascicle”, which while not feeding, is covered in a soft, pliant sheath called the "labellum”, which retracts as the sharp stylets contained within pierce the host's skin surface, as the insect obtains its blood meal. The orange color of the fascicle is due to the red color of the blood as it migrates up the thin, sharp translucent tube. The first reported epidemics of Dengue (DF) and dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) occurred in 1779-1780 in Asia, Africa, and North America. The near simultaneous occurrence of outbreaks on three continents indicates that these viruses and their mosquito vector have had a worldwide distribution in the tropics for more than 200 years. During most of this time, DF was considered a mild, nonfatal disease of visitors to the tropics. Generally, there were long intervals (10-40 years) between major epidemics, mainly because the introduction of a new serotype in a susceptible population occurred only if viruses and their mosquito vector, primarily the Aedes aegypti mosquito, could survive the slow transport between population centers by sailing vessels.

This 2006 photograph shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito getting a blood meal from her human host, who in this instance, was the biomedical photographer, James Gathany, at the Centers for Disease Control.

The efficiency of the mosquitoes at spreading disease in urban areas plus population densities are reportedly the main factors contributing to this estimate. The study pointed out that the Zika Virus has been isolated in 19 different species of the Aedes family, although the virus was most prevalently found in the Aedes aegypti.

Other studies into the distribution of vectors have found that the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus) – which is also responsible for the spread of the Chikungunya virus -has increased its territory and can now be found in Europe. Other Aedes species have also been found to spread the Zika virus, although to fewer people.

Health authorities are scrambling to produce a vaccine as other recent studies have indicated that ZIKV could lead to more severe complications than those already identified.

The Zika virus was first identified in Uganda and is transmitted by Aedes aegyptai mosquitoes, also the vector insect for the dengue and Chikungunya viruses. Prior to an outbreak in Micronesia in 2007, the virus was only known to cause illness in Africa and parts of Asia. In 2013 it began spreading outside its usual areas until the first outbreaks in Latin America in 2015 with Brazil bearing the burden of infections.

Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito

Aedes albopictus also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, one of the most effective vector insects for mosquito diseases

The rapid spread of the virus raises concern that it could quickly impact vulnerable areas around the globe, leading to its declaration as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization.

In addition to the UK, researchers also came from several prominent universities in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Australia and Germany.
-Zadie Neufville

The study Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus is online

The article above appears in
spotlightMag

Unravelling the Science behind Ganja

The original article appears in UWI Pelican Magazine

Cannabis also called Solomon’s Weed, Ganja or Marijuana, is hailed as God’s gift to medicine but only a handful of institutions including UWI’s Mona Campus are studying the properties and possible medicinal applications

By Zadie Neufville
The University of the West Indies has revived the ganja research programme it began in the 1970s as it prepares to launch Jamaica as a global “powerhouse” for cannabis research; as famous for its products and services as it already is for reggae and the good ‘ol sensi weed’.

UWI’s Mona Campus in Kingston is one of the few places in the world where marijuana research can take place from plant breeding, through to clinical trials. The country’s international reputation – the ganja culture, music and athletic success – has brought many to the UWI in search of research collaborations.IMG_7735_1

There is new energy and excitement as researchers leverage over four decades of experience in cannabis research, even as they await the completion of regulations that will guide recent amendments to the Dangerous Drug Act.

“We have the knowledge and we have the expertise to make Jamaica and the Mona Campus a major centre, the leading authority and we are positioned to use our Jamaica brand to drive the programme,” Principal of the UWI’s Mona Campus Professor Archibald McDonald, said in an interview with the Pelican.

Best known for the euphoric effect of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), Cannabis is said to contain more than 60 other chemical compounds. It is these other elements that the UWI and its partners want to exploit in its mission to treat a host of complaints for which modern medicines have no answer.

Researchers are particularly excited by the possibilities of the cannabinoids (CBDs), a group of chemicals referred to as terpenophenolic compounds, also known as terpins.

Scientists at UWI’s research partner Citiva Medical are also excited by the promise of ‘terpens’, particularly after the team successfully developed cannabis-derived products to treat a number of ailments. Citiva is the company behind Charlotte’s Web – a strain of cannabis with less than 0.3 % THC – which is being used to treat paediatric epilepsy.

Prior to being treated with the cannabis extract, 8-year-old Charlotte Figi reportedly suffered up to 300 seizures a day due to a rare form of epilepsy, even while on traditional medicines. The extract from Charlotte’s Web and continued success of the treatments using the oil is one of several success stories from Citiva.

The strain of cannabis named Charlotte’s Web for the little American girl, is being grown at the UWI and will be studied with a view to standardising the extracts. The aim is to ensure that every cannabis plant used for medicine has exactly “the same levels of the specific chemical compounds” required to target specific illnesses, with the same results.

In the medicinal cannabis world, Citiva’s executive director Josh Stanley is a rock star. Described as ‘telegenic’ in his approach to the marketing of cannabis as the future of medicine, both Stanley and the equally visionary McDonald share the belief that research in cannabis goes way beyond smoking the weed.

“We are interested in the whole plant, getting away from the single compound and into the promise of its biology – a multi-compound approach to its natural properties,” Stanley said.

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Professor Archibald McDonald, Principal – UWI Mona

McDonald noted: “We are using our permit effectively to help us to establish a Centre of excellence in cannabis research in the Caribbean. We want the Mona Campus to become the leader in Cannabis research internationally”.

 

And there is no shortage of researchers willing to help him build UWI’s reputation and join the quest to find treatment for a long list of complaints. In addition to examining the use of cannabis in the treatment of diabetes, epilepsy, cancer and chronic pain, the UWI Medicinal Cannabis Research Group (UWI-MCRG) is also contemplating the possibilities for its use in anaesthesia and psychiatry among other areas.

Since 2010 UWI’s Forensic Unit under the leadership of Professor Wayne McLaughlin has diligently mapped the DNA of cannabis to among other things, help police identify key ganja growing areas on the island. These days, the data is being repurposed and put to more beneficial uses, he said.

McLaughlin noted that chemical and gene profiling have allowed researchers to classify cannabis plants not only by the names the farmers give them, but also by the plants’ colouring, their unique chemical compositions as well as by the genes that will make them less susceptible to contamination from heavy metals and other impurities.

“Now we are not only able to track the plants but also look at other genes that are important to the plant and its survival. We can now identify those plants with high and low THC and CBD levels as well as identify male and female plants,” the forensic scientist said.

The UWI-MC Research Group are light years ahead of the authorities and were ready with scores of project ideas covering all areas of medicine and science by the time the University received its exemption permit last year.
“The lobby (for legalisation) had the widest cross section of people and professions I’ve ever seen,” Professor McDonald laughed. The result, he explained, is that the UWI is already working on scores of projects ranging from basic science studies to pre-clinical and clinical studies, all in an effort to expand knowledge of the therapeutic uses of cannabis.

ganja ap

Marijuana researchers on the Caribbean island of Jamaica are planning to develop new pharmaceutical products following the partial decriminalisation of cannabis. (AP/David McFadden)

At the same time, the medicinal research is being enhanced by the ongoing chemical and DNA analyses of the plant. McLaughlin agreed that with so much of the gene sequencing and identification of the chemicals already done, the work done by his team has slashed several years from the expected start-up of clinical trials. It also makes possible the start of the planned Pain Clinic by year’s end, just about coinciding with the start of clinical trials at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

The United States medical marijuana industry is expected to earn as much as US 13billion dollars by 2019 up from US 2.7 billion dollars in 2014. It is expected that the UWI and indeed Jamaica can earn a significant share of the global market from pharmaceuticals, bringing jobs and much needed development. But there will be no products to smoke at the UWI’s Medical Research facilities, even with the 100 million US dollars in monthly sales the US State of Colorado reportedly makes from medical marijuana.

“We aim to change their perception that Jamaica is about a bunch of Rastas and white women getting high,” researcher Carole Lindsay said chuckling. She has been leading the chemical analysis of every strain of Cannabis the University collects from farmers.

A professional chemist, Lindsay noted that creating the chemical profiles of the plants found in Jamaica is critical to protecting both the country’s and the University’s interests.

“Our local strains of cannabis are vulnerable because we assume that with all the interest in ganja, people could be bringing in plants to grow them here. We also know that farmers have been doing their own cross breeding for years,” she explained.

ganja 2

Ganja plants being destroyed by security forces.

Aside from ongoing research into the properties and effects of Cannabis, the UWI was among the first in the world to successfully develop medicines from the plant. Its work, going back to 1972 when ophthalmologist Albert Lockhart and pharmacologist Dr. Manley West began investigating the anecdotes of fishermen who attributed their exceptional night-vision to their consumption of ‘ganja teas’.

From their research, the Department of Pharmacology in 1987 released the Canasol (TM), eye drops to treat glaucoma and followed that success in later years by a number of pioneering marijuana-derived pharmaceuticals: Asmasol for asthma; Cantivert also used to treat glaucoma; Canavert for motion sickness and Cansens for treating viral infections.

“They (the products) were sold on the local market but we really never managed to export it because of the cannabis. But what it showed clearly, was that there are substances in ganja which can provide effective treatment of glaucoma and asthma,” McDonald, a surgeon by training said.

Much of the University’s work in Cannabis is unknown internationally because the laws that prohibited the use of marijuana severely hampered the University’s research programme as well as the marketing of the products.

In Jamaica, the ‘weed’ is also listed as a dangerous drug and until April 2016, possession attracted penalties of imprisonment. The 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs criminalised the possession of ganja, a plant that had been used for generations as traditional medicine by local healers and householders.

When parliament ratified the amendment to the Dangerous Drug Act on April 15, it revived decades old research ambitions at UWI and other local institutions. It also paved the way for a “broad permit” that facilitated the planting of the first legal cannabis plant, thereby establishing UWI’s own ‘ganja’ plot and officially initiating the production and testing of cannabis derived medicines.

ganja_2_blog_cdn

Rastafarians can freely use ‘ganja’ as a sacrament

The amendment that was inked on 6 February – birthdate of the late reggae icon Bob Marley – relaxed rules on the use of ganja on the island. Nowadays, possession of two ounces (56 grams) or less, no longer results in jail time. Rastafarians can freely use ‘ganja’ as a sacrament for the first time since the birth of their movement in the 1930s and householders are allowed to grow up to five plants.

In the months since, several companies have released a number of nutraceuticals and topical pain products derived from cannabis. Not withstanding, McDonald said, UWI is interested in the whole plant.

“Our interest is in unraveling the science behind ganja,” he said.

It’s a philosophy shared by its major partners including Citiva Medical, which Stanley a co-founder said, includes the belief “that the future of cannabinoid medicine lies in strict adherence to unraveling the science”.

As head of the UWI Cannabis Research Group, McDonald is expecting even more successes with new technologies, new investments, new partners and if negotiations go well, he is also looking forward to creating improved versions of Canasol and Asmasol.

IMG_1263

Strains of Charlotte’s Web grow in the facility at UWI as Citiva and the University unravel the secrets to producing consistent dosages of the chemicals found. Photo Z. Neufville

US Federal legislation classification of cannabis the plant as a class 1 drug has forced the Jamaican government to tread lightly, even as it granted permits to UWI and others. Regardless, the University is accelerating its research, construction of green houses, the cultivation of several species of cannabis and the signing of MOUs with agencies and organisations from across the globe.

 

There are several proposals awaiting the regulations and profiling must be done quickly to continue supporting the research and development. To aid the process, more than 600,000 US dollars have been spent to upgrade the equipment in the Toxicology lab.

“We are expecting that many products will be produced and have to be tested and quality checked for them to be marketed. We also expect the USDA will soon come up with regulations on cannabis-derived medicines and we are preparing to meet them,” Lindsay said.

Construction of the UWI Mona Cannabis Research Centre and supporting facilities to expand the institutions research capacity and house its partners is estimated to cost some US 4million dollars.

McDonald is expecting that funding from partners will equip and build the facility as “their contribution to UWI’s 40-year cannabis research legacy, accommodation and the prestige of brand-Jamaica”.

What is Methylhexanamine and what does it do?

Following Nesta Carter’s adverse test, here is what we know about Methylhexanamine or dimethylamylamine:

Methylhexanamine or methylhexamine, commonly known as 1,3-dimethylamylamine or simply dimethylamylamine was developed in 1948 as a Nasal Decongestant. It is a stimulant that has been added to the list of banned substances by WADA.

Chinese geranium said to be a natural source of Methylhexanamine

Chinese geranium said to be a natural source of Methylhexanamine

According to the Drug Foundation’s (New Zealand) website, the compound also called geranamine or DMAA, is “an organic chemical compound manufactured as a synthetic powder”. It is said to be in the same class as Ephedrine and structurally similar to amphetamine, leading to false positives. Athletes were warned to stay away from the compound to prevent false positive for amphetamine.

One Fobes Magazine (online) article in April 2013, linked DMAA with “seizures, arrhythmias, heart attacks, strokes, panic attacks, and deaths”. It is said to significantly raise blood pressure but had no impact on heart rates and in one study, with cerebral haemorrhaging.

Dimethylamylamine is reportedly used mainly as a fat burner and it is this fat-burning potential that made it attractive to makers of many brand name supplements.

Today, dimethylamylamine, which is sold as a dietary supplement, is also used for attention deficit-hyperactive disorder (ADHD), weight loss, improving athletic performance, and bodybuilding.

Some manufacturers claim that dimethylamylamine naturally comes from rose geranium, geranium oil, or geranium stems on the label however the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes this product is manufactured.

Methylhexanamine or dimethylamylamine was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited substances list for 2010.

 

LINKS

https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/dmaa-efficacious-but-is-it-safe/

https://examine.com/supplements/1,3-dimethylamylamine/

 

 

Peces loro, vitales para conservar arrecifes de coral

By Zadie Neufville

[KINGSTON] La interrelación entre el pez loro y los arrecifes del Caribe es vital para este ecosistema por lo que su remoción, incluso en pequeñas cantidades, pondría en peligro la capacidad de recuperación de los arrecifes y su resistencia frente al cambio climático.

“Los peces loro, por ser herbívoros, son importantes para la salud de los arrecifes de coral porque mantienen el sustrato del arrecife relativamente libre de algas”, explica a SciDev.Net.Yves-Marie Bozec, autor principal del estudio publicado en PNAS (19 de abril).

fish in cooler

Cooler with parrotfish on a beach in Portmore, Jamaica. Jamaica Observer photo.

“Los peces loro, por ser herbívoros, son importantes para la salud de los arrecifes de coral porque mantienen el sustrato del arrecife relativamente libre de algas”.

Yves-Marie Bozec, Universidad de Queensland

Esto significa que supervisando su captura, las autoridades podrían ayudar a mantener la salud y el hábitat de las pesquerías de arrecifes incluso con un clima cambiante y trastornos como mala calidad del agua, desarrollo costero incontrolado y sedimentación, añade.

Si las autoridades del Caribe quieren conservar los arrecifes después del 2030, deben incluir la protección de las especies que pastorean en sus arrecifes como parte de las soluciones de gestión de estos ecosistemas, advierte el estudio.

Según los investigadores, restricciones simples y aplicables impactarían positivamente en los resultados a corto plazo, ofreciendo “beneficios ecológicos y pesqueros” que conducirían a mayores rendimientos y mejores tasas de recuperación de corales.

Pero Bozec advierte que solo la prohibición de pescar loro no llevará a la restauración de arrecifes saludables “relativamente vírgenes”. También se requiere la recuperación plena de los corales cuerno de ciervo (Acropora) y  del erizo de mar (Diadema).

Los primeros, son la base y los de mayor crecimiento de las estructuras de arrecifes del Caribe. El erizo de mar, alguna vez el herbívoro más abundante de los arrecifes, fue prácticamente aniquilado por una enfermedad en los años 80.

redtail parrot fish

Redtail parrot

“La prohibición de pescar loro sería lo mejor para la resiliencia de los arrecifes”, dice Bozac pero aclara que, si bien esto es deseable, puede que no sea política o económicamente factible en algunos países.

El Mecanismo Regional de Pesca del Caribe (CRFM) propuso a sus 18 miembros prohibir la captura del pez loro y restringir la captura de varios peces que viven en los arrecifes. Belice y las Islas Turcas y Caicos ya la implementaron, pero otros, como Jamaica, temen que la prohibición traiga dificultades para algunos pescadores.

El Caribe sólo recopila datos de las especies reguladas. Por esta razón, el WildEarth Guardian, con sede en Estados Unidos, está solicitando enlistar algunas de las especies más vulnerables y explotadas de la región, bajo el Acta de Especies en Peligro de Estados Unidos, que no incluye al loro.

“Las especies incluidas en el Acta pueden canalizar los fondos de conservación e investigación de las regiones con especies en peligro. Esperamos que nuestras peticiones proporcionarán más oportunidades de fondos para la conservación y gestión en el Caribe”, señala Taylor Jones, defensor de especies en peligro de esa organización.

Enlace al resumen del estudio en PNAS

 

Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en SciDev.Net. Lea la versión original aquí.

 

So Sorry My Trini Friends, But I Love Me Too

My Dear Trini Friends,

I know you are wonderful individuals and that you would not put your friends through the hassle your Immigration and Airport security have become known to put us through. I love you, and I know you will agree with me that I have to love me too. Every once in a while, I have to take a stand on a point of principle –  only because I love me.

I’ve never overstayed my welcome in Trinidad and Tobago, yet on a stop-over just over a year ago, I was singled out for a very thorough search although I never left the airport. In fact, I was escorted from my plane through what seemed to be a secure (sterile) area via a guarded elevator and to the gate of my connecting flight.

I objected, because I considered this harassment. Before that, I watched as the two other Jamaicans I know (seated in first class) were given the same treatment. Bags emptied on a table, bodies patted and rubbed down, thoroughly searched. Taken from about six spaces from the front of the queue, I was the last person to enter the aircraft.

I was flustered, mad even, but other countrymen and women have been treated much worse than I was. So now that we’ve decided to boycott products made in your homeland, please don’t be offended. In the first place, our balance of trade was never equal, in fact it was the reason so many Jamaicans were looking to work in T&T. Your products are all over our supermarket shelves, our #2 trading partner with close to US$500 million a year.

This is way, way above T&T purchases from Jamaica. And there is a problem when its time to pay. I’m sure you know the term ‘hard pay” its takes a long time and to top it off, T&T Banks say they can’t pay in US dollars.

Members of various governments – who can forget Kamla?- and most recently one ‘big-mouth’ talk show host have made very offensive remarks about my countrymen and women. But, shouldn’t we be the ones to take offence? It is offensive when we are taken aside and searched, harassed just because… It is offensive when politicians old and new believe they have the right to say just about anything to counter the reports of blatant ‘abuse of power’ in what amounts to human rights abuses of my fellow Jamaicans. Detaining and searching without a reason and denial of entry without reason, willy-nilly.

Well, now the people have spoken, or they are speaking with their money. Neither the government nor the opposition have sanctioned it, but the people are speaking loudly and clearly.

On my part, I have not purchased a single item marked ‘Made in Trinidad’ for a sometime now. I’ve encouraged my family to follow suit and now, most don’t. Other Jamaicans are now doing the same. Our aim is to buy local since we have locally made versions of everything made in your country.

We are simply tired of being made the scape goat of every problem in the region and vilified for trying to make a living. We will buy our locally made snacks, sodas and drink mixes and what we don’t make locally, we’ll get it elsewhere. I guess our trade deficit with the US will get bigger.

My friends, I wish this wasn’t so hard, and we do know that local distributors and workers will also feel the pinch but this has been coming for some time. I won’t be travelling to T&T anytime soon, unless its government business and when I do, most likely it won’t be on CAL but I do hope we will remain friends.

No hard feelings, I still love you, It’s just that I love myself too and I won’t pay anyone to abuse me.

En Guyana Francesa mal de Chagas infecta dos veces al año

By Zadie Neufville


El siguiente artículo fue publicado por SciDev.Com el 9/3/2016
Los habitantes de la Guyana Francesa enfrentan un doble riesgo de infectarse con la enfermedad de Chagas: en febrero, cuando se produce un ‘pico’ de corta duración, y entre setiembre y noviembre, según un estudio que encontró variaciones bianuales en la abundancia de los insectos triatominos, vectores de la enfermedad, en ese país. 

“Las limitaciones prácticas que esta doble amenaza plantea sobrepasan las capacidades de los equipos locales de control del vector”, explica Sebastian Gourbiere, autor principal del artículo publicado en Plos Neglected Diseases (11 de febrero).

Añade que ello dificulta que las comunidades afectadas controlen los insectos de la misma forma que “en lugares donde los triatominos muestran un único pico anual de abundancia”.

“Las limitaciones prácticas que esta doble amenaza plantea sobrepasan las capacidades de los equipos locales de control del vector”.

Sebastian Gourbiere

chagas_infographic
Por lo tanto, la fumigación con insecticidas es insuficiente para proteger a las poblaciones en riesgo, requiriéndose medidas adicionales como mosquiteros y erradicación de criaderos para reducir efectivamente el número de personas afectadas anualmente, recomendaciones válidas para todos los países endémicos de esta enfermedad.

El mal de Chagas, o tripanosomiasis, es una enfermedad inflamatoria causada por la picadura  de un triatomino (o vinchuca) infectado con el Trypanosoma cruzi. La Guyana Francesa tiene 14 de las 27 especies reconocidas de triatominos de América Latina.

Los investigadores también verificaron que la lluvia contribuye a la proliferación de los insectos vectores.

El estudio recolectó ocho especies, incluyendo la dominante (Panistrongylus geniculatus), encontrando que donde las especies domésticas eran escasas debido al uso de insecticidas, la prevalencia de las especies intrusivas aumentaba hasta 7 por ciento.

John Lindo,  profesor de microbiología de la Universidad de las Indias Occidentales, señala la urgente necesidad de investigar más la enfermedad, pese a que hay pocos casos reportados en los países del Caribe, como resultado del extenso trabajo de la Organización Mundial de la Salud para reducir su transmisión en la región.

En un artículo publicado en 2012 [1], Lindo señaló que la enfermedad también puede transmitirse consumiendo jugos y carnes contaminadas con el parásito, por transfusión de sangre, y de madre a hijo.

Recuerda que la enfermedad “no tiene vacuna y tampoco hay beneficios comerciales para crearla”.

Gourbiere y su equipo diseñaron y mapearon diversos métodos para atrapar, identificar y clasificar los triatominos de acuerdo a sus subespecies, distribución y esperanza de vida en diversos escenarios, y para comprobar el T. cruzi.

UK Recruiters Exacerbate Jamaica’s Education Brain Drain

by Zadie Neufville

The Following Article was published by Equal Times on March 11, 2016
Jamaican teacher Bertrand came to Britain 15 years ago to seek a better life for himself and his family. He’s amongst hundreds who come every year via recruiting agencies that are raiding the island nation of its teaching staff.

Though Jamaican teachers can earn five times what they make back home, it’s not easy. On an agency salary – typically less than that offered to directly-employed teachers – recruits struggle with the cost of living and sometimes must seek direct placements after three months, Bertrand tells Equal Times, asking not to give his full name.

Teachers at St Andrew Technical with their students. Gleaner Photo

Teachers at St Andrew Technical with their students. Gleaner Photo

“The difference in pay is not that great when you consider the cost of housing, especially in London,” he says, adding that housing for a family is a “pretty steep cut from income.”

And yet in the past year, nearly 500 of Jamaica’s best math and science teachers were recruited to fill some of the 50,000 teaching vacancies in the UK’s education system.

Short on cash and struggling to meet the wage demands of local teachers, Jamaica’s Ministry of Education is grappling with ways to stop the hemorrhage. Recruiters are not only taking the best; they employ the specialists that are the most difficult to replace.

With about a dozen of the island’s best schools losing most of their math and IT departments in 2015 alone, there is concern. As only about one-eighth of the 40,000 students preparing for final exams each year will choose the sciences, it is difficult to find replacements for fully qualified science, technology and maths teachers of the so-called STEM subjects.

“We are not attracting as many science and math teachers as we would have liked in the system. Those who meet matriculation requirements are simply not applying to the teaching profession,” communications director at Jamaica’s Ministry of Education, Byron Buckley, tells Equal Times.

In a report to the Jamaican Parliament on 2 February, then Education Minister Ronald Thwaites pointed to “a deficit in the number of teachers qualified to teach mathematics in the public education system.”

Only about 20 per cent of those deployed are fully qualified, and the situation is similar in the areas of science and information technology, he said. Except for the sciences, literacy and languages, Jamaica has a surplus of teachers.

According to estimates from the education think tank Educate Jamaica, it will take monthly salaries of more than US$2000 after taxes to stem the exodus of specialist teachers.

The Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA), which represents most of the island’s teachers, has also proposed large salary increases and incentives. But International Monetary Fund (IMF) restrictions and the IMF’s proposal for a smaller public sector put the government between a rock and a hard place.

Teacher and Students

Teacher Gary Sinclair and his students. Jamaica-gleaner.com Photo

Even with teacher shortages, the Ministry’s strategy of combining incentives, scholarships and the deployment of coaches in failing schools produced a roughly 50 per cent increase in student pass rates for maths and science.

But there are no policies to prevent foreign recruitment, Buckley said. So while the government explores additional incentives to attract, train and retain specialists, the recruiters are free to enlist, encouraged by similar traditional values and education systems.

UK squeezed too
Britain must find some 160,000 additional teachers in the next three years to satisfy its growing needs, a combination of low recruitment numbers, increased retirements and a record number of resignations.

Teacher training applications are also down. In 2014, there were 21,000 fewer teachers in training over the previous year, even as student numbers rose.

At the same time, the recruitment of foreign teachers is putting the squeeze on British teachers. In 2015, the National Union of Teachers’ (NUT), Britain’s largest, charged that the growth of teaching agencies has reduced salaries and denied members’ access to pensions and professional development.

They launched a campaign to push for equal treatment for all teachers and to force disclosure of government’s payments to recruiting companies.

The frequent raids on Jamaica’s education system are a throwback to the 1960s, when many Jamaicans were recruited to fill vacancies in the British transportation system and National Health Service.

Jamaican teachers are targeted not only to fill vacancies, but also to provide role models for Britain’s Afro-Caribbean population. The US and other Caribbean countries have also targeted Jamaica. Most recently China, Dubai and even Botswana have come calling.

Tarrant school

Tarrant High School teacher with class- Observer Photo

Geoff Brown, a former head teacher in the UK, is now a director of Hourglass Education. According to a Guardian newspaper report, he visited Jamaica in June and again in October 2015 to recruit a total of 64 teachers. According to reports, he has been recruiting on the island since the start of year.

With the employment of replacement British teachers at an all-time low, Brown said the best option is to recruit from places like Jamaica. And although there is ongoing recruitment from Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, Brown admitted that he has a preference for Jamaican teachers.

“In my experience, those from Australia and New Zealand want to come over for a year, travel around Europe and take a month off for Christmas to go home. You get a Jamaican, he or she is here for life,” he told the Guardian.

Even with signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) in which UK and others agree to register and submit their request through the Jamaican government’s online system, the recruitment advertising and fairs continue. And since the UK government has given its blessing, the recruiters are expected to be back soon.

“Our positive education outcomes are being undermined by the continued attrition from the system of the already scarce supply of qualified math teachers,” Thwaites told the Jamaican parliament.

Educate Jamaica has proposed “the other option”. In an article on its website the think tank said the government should consider recruiting “from Asian, South American and African countries such as Nigeria and Ghana to fill the vacancies.”

For expediency’s sake, perhaps there’s another teacher brain drain in the making.