Embajador Ernesto Rubarth, Cónsul General de Brasil en Vancouver, Canadá
In just over 100 days from now, Brazil will welcome the world to witness the best of sports during the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In the preparation for the Games, a recent source of worry has been the Zika virus outbreak. When it comes to dealing with matters of public health concern, it is essential to separate rumours from reality and not to jump into hasty conclusions, based on sketchy data. Let us do that here.
The World Health Organization (WHO), together with the Brazilian and Canadian governments, have issued no recommendation against leisure or business trips to or trade with the 25 countries and territories in the Americas affected by the Zika virus, including Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. Actually, the WHO head, Dr Margaret Chan, has praised Brazil’s quick response and commitment to transparency in dealing with the outbreak.
Zika is transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, which breeds in still water. In 80 per cent of the cases, the disease is asymptomatic with the remaining 20 per cent, experiencing symptoms generally like those of a mild flu for about three and seven days.
For one specific population however, Zika requires extra caution: pregnant women. Brazilian scientists have identified a link between women with the disease and microcephaly. Microcephaly is a malformation of the head in newborn babies, which leads in the majority of the cases to intellectual disability and may also cause respiratory, neurological and motor complications. That means that pregnant women or women planning to get pregnant should consider avoiding trips to the affected areas.
As serious as this concern is, let us put this in perspective, as by the end of January, of the 4,180 suspected cases of microcephalic babies recorded only 268 had been confirmed. In host city Rio, 122 cases were reported, but none had been actually confirmed.
Brazil is taking the Zika virus very seriously. Our free and universal health care system has enabled a swift response. The actions taken by the Government cover various areas: surveillance and monitoring; prevention, control and training; financial investment; information awareness and mobilization, and, finally, research. In one day alone in February, three million buildings were inspected for the presence of mosquito breeding sites. More than 300,000 health workers and 220,000 troops are being deployed to remove breeding sites. The government has earmarked more than $176 million to combat the proliferation of the mosquito.
Brazíl’s governmental agencies are in continuous dialogue with its counterparts at the WHO and US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists at Brazilian world-class research institutes Butantã, Evandro Chagas and Bio-Manguinhos are working together with their international colleagues, including the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. and the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, searching for new therapies and aiming at developing a vaccine.
The best way to face the Zika virus is prevention. When visiting affected areas, each one of us should cover containers with standing water, apply insect repellents, ensure there are nets on windows and doors and wear long-sleeved clothing. In the specific case of Rio, environmental health officers are paying regular visits to the construction areas of the Olympic and Paralympic venues to remove any mosquito-breeding sites. During the games, the venues, the surrounding regions and public gathering areas will be subject to daily sweeping searches to ensure visitors’ safety. In addition, the Games will occur during the Southern Hemisphere‘s winter, when cooler temperatures cause a sharp-decrease in mosquito populations.
Let me conclude with an invitation for you to join me and my family in Rio next August. I am already making my travel arrangements and hope to join my countrymen in welcoming you to what we know how to do perhaps like no other people in the world: to throw a great party to celebrate sportsmanship.