Tonga's army called in for Zika fight


Tonga's armed forces have been called in to help the fight against the spread of the Zika virus.

And Tongan health authorities are urging residents to be careful with household rubbish, amid fears it's contributing to a growing number of mosquito breeding sites.

On the streets of the capital, military men provided some much-needed heavy lifting.

It's the frontline in the struggle against Zika virus, all part of a nationwide clean-up campaign.

"It's part of our job to help the country," says Kilioni Mafi, from the Tongan Navy. "Also the public cleaning up, just to help reduce this disease spreading all over the country."

Defence personnel have already trucked away more than 400 tonnes of debris.

Household rubbish left lying around is the biggest threat for Tonga amid the current Zika outbreak. Anything which can hold water, even if it's just a couple of millilitres, could become a breeding site for mosquitoes.

Lurking in stagnant water inside one tyre is the aedes mosquito larvae, the same type of insect which spreads the virus.

"We have to educate the people of Tonga to make sure that cleanliness is the best way to respond to any virus that comes to Tonga," says Sione Taumoefolau, Tonga Red Cross general secretary.

He says that goes for everyone visiting the Kingdom.

"My message to all in Tonga and those visiting Tonga -- please don't throw any rubbish around."

Public health teams are also busy targeting schools. Fifteen primary schools and four colleges have been sprayed, resulting in some being forced to close temporarily.

They're also doing what they can around private dwellings but resources are stretched.

"We need more spraying machines and also the chemicals, [and] manpower," says Ministry of Health inspector Uatesoni Tua'ngalu.

More boots on the ground is something Tonga says is needed now to slow the spread of this epidemic, which is already believed to have affected more than 500 people.