LONDON - As the number of cases of the Zika virus continues to rise in Latin America and the Caribbean, Plan International sees the World Health Organization's declaration of a global emergency as an important step in tackling the outbreak.
“We hope the move to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern will help mobilize experts and fast-track the hunt for medicines and a vaccine so that we can see an end to the spread of the Zika virus,” said Raul Rodriguez Choto, Plan International’s Regional Disaster Response Manager for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Despite better public health systems and quick responses in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Zika virus has now impacted 24 countries and territories and could affect as many as 4 million people. The virus has no cure nor any preventive vaccine.
Plan International implements programs in 12 countries in the region and is responding in communities in some of the affected nations. Plan’s efforts have been centered around public health promotion and mosquito control measures like clean-up campaigns to remove areas of stagnant water where mosquitoes can breed.
Plan International has worked on projects in El Salvador that include introducing a particular species of fish in sources of water where they feed on mosquito larvae. This helps contain the population of mosquitoes that spread dengue fever, chikungunya and, now, the Zika virus.
The Zika virus itself is not considered particularly dangerous and many who become infected show no symptoms. But there are concerns over suspected links to hundreds of cases of babies born with unusually small heads – a condition called microcephaly.
When children are born with microcephaly, they are unlikely to reach their full potential and may require support from those around them for their entire lives.
This often puts an enormous burden on entire families, particularly those who are already vulnerable and excluded from society. The extra time and money needed to support a child born with microcephaly who may have learning difficulties can push families deeper into poverty.
“As the number of cases of Zika virus continues to grow, greater efforts are needed to contain the spread of the outbreak. The battle is essentially a fight against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the same mosquito that transmits dengue fever and chikungunya,” added Choto. “For many countries, dengue and chikungunya, along with the Zika virus, will continue to be the priority as these are long-established health concerns in the region. There is therefore already a considerable body of knowledge and experience that can be drawn from.”
Plan International supports the call for greater investment in research and development to gain a better understanding of the links between the Zika virus and other conditions and to develop medicines and vaccines.
Dr. Unni Krishnan, Plan International’s Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response, said, “Diseases know no boundaries or borders. The international community must step up to help curb the spread of the Zika virus by offering support to fill in any gaps in terms of expertise, funding, and resources to contain the outbreak, building on work that is already being.
“Both the Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks demonstrate the fundamental need for investing in robust public health systems that can avert any outbreaks through effective detection, prevention, and control measures.”
The precise impact of the Zika virus will not be known for some time, but there will likely certainly be a significant economic impact in some affected countries as tourism will likely be affected and considerable resources will be channelled to the Zika response, all of which could have a knock-on effect for those already living in poverty.
About Plan International USA
Plan International USA, part of the Plan International Federation, is a child-centered development organization that believes in the promise and potential of children. For more than 75 years in over 50 developing countries, Plan has been breaking the cycle of child poverty. Everything Plan does – from strengthening health care systems to improving the quality of education, to advocating for increased protection and beyond – is built with, and owned by, the community. The result is a development approach designed to improve the lives of the youngest members of the community for the longest period of time. For more information, please visit http://www.PlanUSA.org.