Marcela Nicodemos, Embajadora de Brasil en Kenia
On February 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency. The announcement follows the declaration by Brazil of a national health emergency. The Zika virus disease, relatively unknown throughout the world, was identified for the first time in Brazil in 2015. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), since last year, 24 other countries and territories of the Americas have been affected by the Zika virus.
The WHO declaration will allow for better coordination of actions and mobilization of the necessary funding in a global effort aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, as well as speeding up the research to develop a vaccine and new therapeutic drugs.
The Zika virus is transmitted by the same vector that transmits dengue and chikungunya, the Aedes aegypti. There is no scientific proof regarding the transmission of the disease other than by infected mosquito bite. The disease`s symptons, generally lasting for 2 to 7 days after contamination, are similar to those associated with a flu in adults: fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain.
At the end of 2015, for the first time, Brazilian authorities encountered a possible association between the contamination of women by the Zika virus during pregnancy and the birth of babies with microcephaly, a serious congenital condition in which the brain does not develop properly. For the moment, however, more data and standardized protocols are needed before the link between the virus and cases of microcephaly can be fully clarified. Of the suspected cases of microcephaly - which can be caused by a number of diseases - being studied currently in Brazil, only 17 have been found to have a link to Zika.
With its integrated universal public health care system, Brazil has reacted swiftly since the identification of the outbreak, with a view to understanding the virus, the manner that it appears and evolves, as well as the risk factors associated with it.
According to the WHO, currently the most important preventative measures to be adopted are control of the mosquito populations and preventing mosquito bites for individuals at risk and, particularly, for pregnant women.
The Government of Brazil has deployed 220 thousand armed forces personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force and 300 thousand health agents and volunteers all over Brazil to combat breeding grounds.
Brazil has been congregating efforts of specialists in various areas of medicine from all over the world in order to carry out research in the country. The Government of Brazil has been coordinating the international effort for the production of a vaccine for the Zika virus, launched with the mobilization of Latin American and Caribbean countries and in partnership with the Government of the United States.
A continuous dialogue with international bodies continues, for instance, with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the USA Centres for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDCs).
It should be noted that the World Health Organization and the World Tourism Organization have not issued any international travel or trade restrictions on the account of the virus. While special care is advised for pregnant women, tourists and travellers bound for the regions affected by the Zika virus should take basic precautions as they would anywhere in the world.
As Brazil prepares for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Government of Brazil is working hard to rid the Rio de Janeiro region and the whole country of the Aedes aegypti. All construction areas of the Olympic venues are being regularly visited by environmental health officers in order to control any possible mosquito breeding sites. Any remaining reservoirs of the construction work will be removed and those that cannot be removed will be treated in order to avoid any appearance of mosquito breeding sites.
Local staff will identify and eliminate possible breeding sites. During the Games, all of the Olympic venues will be manned by at least one accredited environmental health officer tasked with carrying out a daily sweep searching and removing any areas, which could potentially become breeding sites. In addition to the accredited officers working within the Olympic venues, there will also be environmental health teams tasked with the control of mosquitoes in the whole region surrounding the competition and public gatherings areas. It should be noted, furthermore, that the Olympic games will be held during the Winter season, historically a period of low rainfall and mosquitoes.
Reactions based on misinformation may disrupt our daily lives without helping to solve the problem. In the global fight against Zika, we should draw the right lessons in order to improve the international framework for preventing and fighting epidemics and tropical diseases. Brazil will continue to do its part with resolve and determination.