Zika virus has been steadily spreading across the region and has now affected 23 countries and territories. The virus has no cure or any preventive vaccine. It is being linked to hundreds cases of babies born with shrunken heads in Brazil and has caused considerable alarm.
Plan International implements programmes in 12 countries in the region and is responding in communities in some of the affected countries. The organisation’s efforts have been centred 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 David Dalton, Plan International Ireland’s CEO.
“Governments and the international community must take urgent action to halt the rapid spread of the Zika virus disease across Latin America and the Caribbean,”
The World Health Organisation has convened an emergency committee meeting on Monday 1 February 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,” added Dalton.
“The fact that an unusual number of new born babies have been diagnosed with shrunken 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.
The organisation has experience of responding to other mosquito borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya prevalent in several countries in the region.
David Dalton added: “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, a birth defect where babies are born with unusually small heads, which can often lead to underdevelopment.
When children are born with microcephaly, it may result in them not reaching their full development and potentially needing care and support for their entire lives.
Plan International has previously 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.