Carlos Alberto M. Den Hartog, Embajador de Brasil en Jamaica
In August and September of this year, the world will be joyfully watching the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Jamaicans, in particular, have a lot of reasons to look forward to this international contest, for they have an exceptional Olympic team in several categories, and they expect many medals and new records to be broken by some of their world-renowned athletes.
Today, however, the world is looking with serious concern at another “contest”: the fight against the Zika epidemic that has recently affected several countries in the region, including Brazil. It seems therefore important that we share the most accurate information available on the contest that we are facing right now.
The Zika virus (ZIKV), 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, in addition to Brazil, 24 other countries and territories of the Americas have been affected by ZIKV. Jamaican health authorities have recently recorded the first confirmed case near Kingston.
The disease caused by this virus was swiftly characterised as an epidemic by the Brazilian public authorities. The Zika virus is transmitted by the same mosquito that transmits dengue and chikungunya — the Aedes aegypti. Symptoms most commonly experienced are fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, which, in general, last for two to seven days.
At the end of 2015, for the first time, Brazilian authorities proved a possible link between women infected 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. Experts are also studying whether Zika might be linked to a neurological disorder known as Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
With an integrated universal public health care system which provides free treatment, Brazilian health experts reacted swiftly on the identification of the outbreak of the epidemic and were able to make an immediate connection between microcephaly and ZIKV.
According to the WHO, the most important preventative measures to be adopted currently are: control and elimination of the mosquito populations and preventing mosquito bites for individuals at risk, particularly pregnant women. The Government of Brazil has created an unprecedented task force to combat the disease. Around 220,000 personnel from the army, navy and air force have joined 300,000 public agents and volunteers all over Brazil to eliminate the breeding grounds in every house in Brazil.
The Government of Brazil has been combining the efforts of international specialists to fight ZIKV and has helped to mobilise other Latin American and Caribbean countries. It has also established a partnership with the Government of the United States to develop a vaccine. Brazil is in continual dialogue with international bodies such as the WHO, the Pan American Health Organization, and the USA’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a national priority and the Government of Brazil has acted in a transparent and rapid manner.
For the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Government of Brazil has already adopted major precautions to eliminate all possible mosquito-breeding sites associated with the construction work. During the games, all of the Olympic venues will be manned by at least one accredited environmental health officer responsible for carrying out a daily sweep to remove any potential breeding sites, in addition to environmental health teams to control mosquitoes in the whole region surrounding the competition and public gathering areas.
Brazil is playing its part in this contest. Jamaica also took immediate action as soon as its first case of ZIKV was confirmed to combat the mosquitoes and to reduce the possibility of any spread of the virus in its territory. The launch of the regional University of the West Indies Zika Task Force is an important part of this action. Caribbean Community leaders have also endorsed a course of action to deal with the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in the region.
This is a contest that we have to face together as a team so we can all watch and participate in the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games with the joy of a gold medal for our concerted efforts and the eventual victory in the fight against the Zika virus and the Aedes aegypti mosquito.