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Plan International Responding to Zika Virus as Outbreak Spreads "Explosively"

LONDON - Plan International is responding to the Zika virus in several communities in the Americas as concerns grow over its “explosive” spread.

The Zika virus has been steadily spreading across the region and has now affected 23 countries and territories. The virus has no cure nor any preventive vaccine. It is being linked to hundreds cases of babies being born with microcephaly in Brazil and has caused considerable alarm. Microcephaly is a birth defect where babies are born with unusually small heads, which can often lead to underdevelopment.

Plan International implements programs in 12 countries in the region and is responding in communities in some of the affected countries. Plan’s efforts have been centered around public health promotion and mosquito control measures.

“Public awareness activities are key as cases of the Zika virus can be reduced dramatically when people take action in their own communities,” said Raul Rodriquez, Plan International’s Regional Humanitarian Manager for the Americas. “Governments and the international community must take urgent action to halt the rapid spread of the virus across Latin America and the Caribbean,” he added.

The World Health Organization has convened an emergency committee meeting on Monday, February 1st, to discuss the “explosive” spread of the Zika virus. The global health agency has warned that the virus could affect as many as four million people.

“The Zika virus outbreak poses a clear and real danger. The fight against Zika outbreak is a race against time. Urgent coordinated efforts are necessary to stop this outbreak reaching epidemic proportions,” said Dr. Unni Krishnan, Plan International’s Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response. “The fact that an unusual number of new born babies have been diagnosed with smaller than usual heads has further amplified public fear and concern.”

Plan International is part of wider government coordination and efforts at the national levels to combat the spread of the virus. This includes participation in public health promotion campaigns and working with communities.

Plan has experience with responding to other mosquito borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya prevalent in several countries in the region.

Dr. Krishnan said: “We have a tough battle against the virus and the mosquitoes who carry them. While there is no cure or vaccine for the virus, its spread can be contained by intensifying the battle against mosquitoes. Tackling mosquitoes as part of an intensified public health response will also help save thousands of lives that are lost due to chikungunya and dengue in the region.”

The current spell of Zika virus disease was first reported in Brazil in May 2015. The cases of Zika virus in the country have coincided with an unprecedented number of cases of microcephaly.

When children are born with microcephaly, it may result in them not reaching full development and potentially needing care and support for their entire lives.

Plan International has worked on projects in El Salvador that includes introducing species of fish in sources of water where they feed on mosquito larvae. This helps to contain the population of mosquitoes that spread dengue fever. The same Aedes mosquitoes also transmit the Zika virus.

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.

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