Roberto Abdalla, Embajador de Brasil en Catar
On February 1, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Zika virus, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, an international public health emergency. The announcement follows the declaration by Brazil of a national public health emergency.
An outbreak of Zika was detected in late 2015 in Brazil. The virus has no nationality. It began in Africa, spread throughout Southeast Asia and Oceania and is now in Latin America. And this movement happened exceptionally fast, having begun only last year.
The WHO declaration will allow for better co-ordination of actions and mobilisation 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. Despite the real public health risk, it is important to avoid misinformation. At this point, there is no reason to cancel business or pleasure trips, but extra precautions must be taken by pregnant women, who should talk to a doctor before travelling to the most affected areas.
The main concern is over the virus`s link to microcephaly, a congenital condition where a child is born with a smaller than normal head size and impaired brain development.
The Zika is not a new Ebola, its symptoms being similar to a mild flu in adults. About 80% of people infected by the Zika virus do not develop symptoms, whether they are adults or children. The Zika virus is of course a matter of concern, given the association with microcephaly in newborn babies when pregnant women are infected. More data and standardised protocols are needed before the link - first discovered by Brazilian doctors - between the virus and such cases can be fully clarified. This fight is global, regional and national. Globally, the WHO will be the main co-ordinator of efforts in this fight to control the virus worldwide. On the regional level, Brazil is also in permanent contact with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and regional partners, such as the US.
At the domestic level, the Brazilian government is seriously addressing this issue as a matter of utmost importance to the Brazilian people. The federal government has launched a three-front National Plan to fight the disease: prevention and combat against the Aedes mosquito; healthcare and assistance to pregnant women and children; and research.
In order to fight the vector of the infection, the mosquito, the Brazilian government has deployed 220,000 troops and 300,000 health agents, who are visiting communities to educate the population and help eliminate all mosquito breeding grounds. This is an emergency, but Brazil and the world have the know-how and are able to muster the human and material resources to meet the challenge.
As Brazil prepares for the Olympics in August, authorities are working hard to rid the Rio de Janeiro region and the whole country of Aedis aegypti mosquitoes. Moreover, the Olympics will take place during winter in the Southern Hemisphere, a period of cooler temperatures, which contribute to a sharp decrease in mosquito-borne illnesses.
While any reaction based on misinformation may disrupt our daily lives without helping to solve the problem, effective measures require scientifically consistent data, transparency, rational planning and decisive action. The international community must unite in this global effort and draw the right lessons to improve the international framework for preventing and fighting epidemics and tropical diseases. Brazil will continue to do its part with resolve and determination.