The No More Epidemics Campaign on Devex: Protecting Women and Children in Zika-affected Countries
This blogpost, written by MSH President and CEO Jonathan Quick, International Medical Corps President and CEO Nancy Aossey, and Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles, was originally published on Devex on February 16, 2016.
The explosion of the Zika virus in South America, Central America and the Caribbean has provided more vivid evidence of the urgency to invest in pandemic prevention and preparedness.
The virus is spread by the day-biting Aedes aegypti mosquito that also carries dengue and chikungunya viruses. Although it was first identified in 1947, until the 2000s it had been confined to Africa.
Until recently, Zika was considered an innocuous illness — 80 percent of those infected were asymptomatic and the rest suffered a rash and mild symptoms of flu.
Since May 2015, however, Brazil has reported nearly 4,000 confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly believed to be associated with Zika infection — a dramatic increase from the typically fewer than 150 cases per year.
Microcephaly is a birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head and brain, variously associated with early developmental delay, intellectual disability and other problems. Some cases in Brazil have been severe and some children have died. Some seven out of eight cases are in Brazil's poorest states, in the northeast of the country.
Last week, the World Health Organization said that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Unlike other pandemic diseases, the biggest fear of families and communities is not the death of loved ones, but disability of an unborn child. In December 2015, BBC Brazil reported from the rural zones in Pernambuco that pregnant women there were "terrified by what they know about Zika." Other reports from Brazil describe women as unaware of the threat. Some public health experts in Brazil expect that before the end of 2016, there may be as many as 15,000 cases of microcephaly.
No More Epidemics is a 5 year global campaign that brings together partners from the business community, academia, and civil society to work with governments and multilateral institutions to ensure we are better protected from epidemics. For more information visit www.nomoreepidemics.org or contact Dr. Frank Smith, Campaign Director.