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Ricardo Diniz, Embajador de Brasil en Botsuana

GABORONE – The Zika virus disease, relatively unknown throughout the world, was identified for the first time in Brazil in 2015, after the outbreak in French Polynesia in 2014. Although the virus has been known for some decades, this is a completely new situation in terms of international public health and also for the international scientific community.  Until 2014, there were records of sporadic spread of the Zika virus in Africa, Asia, and Oceania.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), since last year, in addition to Brazil, 24 other countries and territories of the Americas have been affected by the Zika virus.

The disease caused by this virus (which is transmitted by the same vector that transmits dengue and chikungunya- the Aedes aegypti) was swiftly characterised as an epidemic by the Brazilian public authorities.  There is no scientific proof regarding the transmission of the disease other than by infected mosquito bite.  People who present symptoms most commonly have a fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain. In general, these symptoms last for 2-7 days after the contamination.  At the end of 2015, for the first time, the Brazilian authorities proved a possible association between the contamination of women by Zika virus during pregnancy and the birth of babies with microcephaly, a serious congenital condition in which the brain does not develop properly.

With an integrated universal public health care system with free treatment provision, Brazil has reacted swiftly since the identification of the epidemic outbreak, with a view to understanding the virus, the manner that it appears and evolves as well as the risk factors associated with it.  Brazilian health experts were able to make a swift association of microcephaly with the Zika virus in their work. According to the WHO, currently the most important preventative measures to be adopted are control of the mosquito populations and preventing mosquito bite for individuals at risk and, particularly, for pregnant women.  The Government of Brazil has created a task force without any precedent with financial, technological and scientific resources aimed at the prevention and fight against the mosquito transmitting the disease for short, medium and long term periods.  Around 220 thousand armed forces personnel from the army, Navy and air force have joined 300 thousand public agents and volunteers all over Brazil to combat the breeding grounds in every house in Brazil.

Brazil has been congregating efforts of specialists of 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 in the fight against the Zika virus, launched with the mobilisation of Latin American and Caribbean countries and in partnership with the Government of the United States for the production of a vaccine.

A continual dialogue with international bodies continues, for instance, with the WHO and the USA Centres for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDCs).  This is a national priority and the Government of Brazil has acted in a transparent and swift manner.

Tourists and travellers bound for the regions affected by the Zika virus should take the basic precautions as they would anywhere in the world.  The WHO and the World Tourism Organisation have not issued any international travel or trade restrictions on the account of the virus.

There is advice of special care for pregnant women, who ought to consult their doctors before travelling and adopt measures to reduce the presence of the disease transmitting mosquitos, such as keeping doors and windows shut or using insect door/window mesh screens, wearing trousers and long sleeves and applying mosquito repellents suitable for pregnant women.

For the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Government of Brazil has already adopted major precautions. All constructions areas of the Olympic venues have regular visits from 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 mosquitos in the whole region surrounding the competition and public gatherings areas.

The Brazilian Government and population are fully engaged in the fighting of the Zika virus, which is everybody’s duty. By adopting necessary precautions to prevent the proliferation of the mosquito, all will be contributing to fighting this disease.

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