I have to admit, as insensitive as it will sound, that when I heard last week that the Brazilian military were set loose on the favelas of Rio and Recife, searching out and destroying potential breeding spots for mosquitos that my mind went immediately to the movie “Fast & Furious 5”. I can see Vin Diesel and The Rock stomping through the narrow alleyways, chasing each other over the roofs and dodging flying cars all in the hunt for the elusive Zika Mosquitio.
Sorry for the insensitivity of the detour of my mind - it is so much more frightening and serious than that. When WHO director general, Margaret Chan called Zika an "extraordinary event" that needed a coordinated response she was acting on the knowledge that this virus, with its genesis in the mosquito, is already impacting millions of people and has the potential to spread and affect millions more. This is “a public health emergency of international concern." (Announcement)
One clinic in Recife, a run down, underfunded medical facility was treating maybe 5 cases of microcephaly a month, until last month when they treated 300. While the medical evidence, (hard data) is still not available to say that the virus causes microcephaly the anecdotal evidence and the belief of most, especially the mothers of the affected babies, is that the link is undeniable.
We operate in 14 countries in Latin America but we are prioritizing interventions in the most affected countries of Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Brazil is the most affected, with over 4,000 suspected and 400 confirmed cases of microcephaly caused by the Zika virus among newborn babies, according to the country's health minister. In the next six months the estimated budget for our response is US $3 million to reach 300,000 direct beneficiaries and 1.5 million indirect beneficiaries in the five countries targeted.
The frustration for Brazilian’s must be that this virus has been around for years, microcephaly and the link has been investigated for at least the last 18 months, but when the world begins to focus on the Olympics and athletes (especially young women of child bearing years) from all over the world, when the virus looks like it could perhaps jump Dutton’s border security, avoid off-shore incarceration and take residence among us – then we take notice.
There is information available, and you can follow our progress (and contribute to the effort to assist the people of Latin America if you’re able).