Panama City, February 2, 2016. The unexpected spread of Zika virus is causing great concern in Latin America and especially in countries like Colombia and Brazil, where there have been thousands of cases, including pregnant women. According to the Pan American Health Organization, it has been reported local transmission of Zika virus in 26 countries, 12 in which World Vision operates. WHO estimates that the Zika virus could infect up to 3 to 4 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean by the end of 2016. Several million more (up to 400 million) worldwide are impacted each year by other diseases spread by the aedes mosquito, including dengue and chikungunya.
We are working closely with the ministries of health and the international community in each country to combine response actions. In Brazil, World Vision has initiated prevention efforts in communities to reduce the spread of virus, and is coordinating with the government to help where it is needed. At a regional level, we are also promoting efforts with UN agencies through REDLAC.
Our overall experience in the fight against Ebola in West Africa, has shown the importance of working with local leaders, including churches and faith-based organizations to disseminate accurate prevention messages and dispel any misinformation, rumours and scaremongering, which can damage efforts to reduce the spread and increase fear. World Vision has experience in Latin America supporting actions with local and national governments in combating dengue epidemics in previous years, including mobilization campaigns and communication interventions for behaviour change, aimed at controlling and eliminating breeding places of Aedes mosquito, recognition of danger signs, symptoms and timely seeking medical attention.
It is imperative that governments and the international community urgently commit the necessary funds to strengthen health services, especially in the most vulnerable communities, so that people know the correct information to prevent the risk of transmission of Zika. Pregnant women should be protected as a priority, receiving prenatal controls and accurate information on how to protect themselves. If pregnant women get infected with Zika, they should receive precise medical monitoring to recognize signs of microcephaly or other disorders in the foetus and babies at birth. Microcephaly is a catastrophe for normal brain development of children and a strong social and economic burden on families, communities and states.
Community participation as well as civil society organizations mobilisation, including churches, is key to complement the efforts of governments. Actions should focus on a wide promotion that encourages people individually and collectively to the control and elimination of breeding of aedes mosquito, to take preventive measures to avoid mosquito bites, to know and detect signs of disease and to seek immediate medical attention.
The World Health Organization has declared that this as a global emergency. Therefore, World Vision joins the call for the international community to respond effectively. It is necessary to invest resources and mobilise the population and local, national and global institutions to take part before this alarming public health scenario.
David Muñoz Ambriz
Regional Communications Director | World Vision Latin America and the Caribbean
david_munoz [at] wvi [dot] org | +521 55 3899 0978