The prevalence of the Zika virus in 46 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean has caused the World Health Organization (WHO) to issue a controversial public health warning.
The virus is spread by aedes aegypti mosquitoes and more than five million babies and their mothers born in this part of the world each year are vulnerable to attack, says a recent study, entitled “Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus”, published on www.elifesciences.org
The virus commonly results in abnormally small heads and brain damage in infants – a condition called microcephaly. Sometimes, the infection has caused paralysis and fatal complications in adults..
Now, as the virus has made appearances in Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands and American Samoa, the WHO wants couples to delay pregnancy until 2018. The WHO has predicted that Zika may well spread to Florida and the Gulf coast in 2016.
In many of the danger zones, abortion is outlawed and many women have long struggled to access contraceptives, so asking couples not to have children is hypocritical, say reproductive rights groups.
The WHO announced in June 2016 that another mosquito-borne disease, yellow fever, has caused the death of over 300 people in Angola since December 2015. In total, more than 3 000 Angolans contracted the fever.
The WHO stated on 16 June that this is the highest number of people affected by yellow fever since 1971. Dr Fortunato Silva, the clinical director at Americo Boavida Hospital in Luanda, says that immunisation rates have dropped in the population because people are not getting vaccinated. It is the law in Angola for babies to be vaccinated against yellow fever at the age of nine months, and children cannot attend school unless they have a valid yellow fever certificate. Many certificates are faked, as belief in the protective value of the vaccine is low.
Silva says that population density and rotting garbage in the streets (perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes) in Luanda has meant that the disease has spread quickly. Furthermore, there is a global shortage of the vaccine, so yellow fever will spread quickly through the entire country and across its borders. Vaccines must be administered within 10 days of the outbreak being identified.
Category: Spring 2016