The Zika virus is an emerging public health crisis of international concern, as thousands to potentially millions of people – primarily in Latin and South America – have been infected by the mosquito-borne virus.
The Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which is also responsible for spreading dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. The spread of the Zika virus gives cause for concern as the science linking the disease to birth defects, malformations and neurological disorders in new-borns is becoming clearer. Further observations suggest that Zika infection can lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious immune system disorder which can cause temporary paralysis. The virus has had a particularly detrimental impact on poor and vulnerable people living within cramped neighbourhoods and slums, as the crowded conditions, lack of clean water and poor sanitation give rise to perfect conditions for the spread of mosquito-borne viruses.
So far, cases of the Zika virus have been reported in Africa, southern Asia, the Pacific and the Americas. The World Health Organisation suggests that between 500,000 and 1.5 million people have been infected within Brazil alone. This number is set to spread, as increased rainfall due to the effects of El Nino is expected to increase the presence of mosquitos within a number of areas.
Save the Children’s response to the epidemic is orientated towards prevention. We are working with individuals and communities to increase their capacity to prevent Zika through education and awareness around vector control to reduce the prevalence of mosquitos and personal risk prevention, as well as disease identification and care – particularly for pregnant women. We are advocating for greater knowledge on comprehensive sex education, as well as improved access to contraception, condoms for disease prevention, and emergency contraception to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, especially among adolescents. We are also providing supplies such as insect repellent and mosquito nets, to try and limit the spread. In the longterm we will also be working with families, communities and educational systems to ensure that children born with birth defects due to the Zika virus are not stigmatised, but supported. Our community mobilization and education, as well as vector control messages, will be carried out within 11 countries to benefit over 1.6 million people.