Big Island Lawmakers Upset Over State Rat Lungworm Prevention Plan

Aug 2, 2017

Dr. Ginnie Pressler (at podium), director of the Department of Health, holds up an information brochure for Rat Lungworm prevention. She was joined by (L-R), Board of Agriculture chair, Scott Enright; Task Force chair, Associate Professor Kenton Kramer and Governor David Ige.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The state unveiled its 2-year plan to combat rat lung worn disease on a statewide basis.  But, as HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports, not all lawmakers support the plan.

The state confirmed 15 cases of rat lungworm disease this year, 9 on the Big Island and 6 on Maui.  Governor David Ige says the legislature provided 1 million dollars, 500-thousand for each of the next two years, to address this serious parasitic infection.

“Our Departments of Health, Agriculture, Tourism, Land and Natural Resources and the University of Hawai’i are working together to identify and determine the best approaches to preventing the spread of rat lungworm parasites.”

Rat Lungworm
Credit U.H. Hilo Pharmacy School

State Department of Health director, Dr. Ginnie Pressler, says 300-thousand dollars in the first year will fund information and outreach efforts.

“Our major focus will be building public awareness and education.  The Department of Health, in partnership with the Hawai’i Association of Broadcasters, will air a series of public service announcements on television and radio stations statewide throughout the year.  The campaign will focus on food safety and basic prevention measures.”

The Governor’s Joint Task Force, established last year, will reconvene in August and focus on diagnosis and management of the disease.  Task Force chair, Associate Professor Kenton Kramer, says that work is already being done.

“A subcommittee on clinical diagnosis and management –they are meeting this summer—focusing on the best practices.  The Center for Disease Control does have standards and protocols that they’ll be looking at first, followed by collaboration with international collaborators.”

Rep. Joy Sanbuenaventura and Rep. (MD) Richard Creagan.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

But, Big Island lawmakers are not happy with the state’s prevention and funding plan.  They say U-H Hilo Pharmacy School Associate Professor, Sue Jarvi, should receive full funding.  Big Island Representative Joy San Buenaventura is from Puna.

“I am very disappointed as the representative from the District of Puna, where the crisis hit before Maui, before anywhere else in the state.  That there is no money that is being given or directed to U-H Hilo who has been in the forefront of educating the public and who is there at the hospitals doing research, palliative care, helping out the patients with rat lungworm disease.  That there are no monies allocated for that.”

Big Island Representative, Richard Creagan, represents Na’alehu, Ke’alakekua, Captain Cook and Kailua Kona.

“I’m a physician on the Big Island.  And we provided a bill that would have given a million dollars to the Jarvi Lab to do the research that was needed.  That money was diverted to the Health Department .  When the Health Department got it, they said, “We didn’t ask for this money.  We don’t know what we’re going to do with it.”  That’s what they said.  And what have they done with it?  They come up with a piece of paper and some empty promises.  Well, I think it’s reprehensible what our Health Department and what our Governor is doing to not support the Jarvi Lab.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka