An update on the Zika virus outbreak in the Americas: what’s happening, how World Vision’s expertise with Ebola supports our response and prevention efforts, and what you can do today to help make a difference.
We’ve all been watching the news carefully this week as the world was shocked by the speed of Zika’s spread, and its newly discovered, frightening effects. For a disease that was first confirmed in Brazil only nine months ago, it has now spread to 26 countries in the region, leading experts to predict 3-4 million infections by the end of 2016. The disease appears to be linked to 4,000 cases of microcephaly in Brazil—a congenital condition causing unusual smallness of the head and incomplete brain development in newborns.
World Vision operates in 12 of these affected countries (see below).
Zika's connection to microcephaly took the world by surprise. Until recently, it wasn’t considered a severe illness; even now, it is usually only a risk to women who are or may become pregnant. Only 20% of the people that become infected with Zika will show symptoms, and those that do rarely need to be hospitalized. Symptoms are usually mild, like a low fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, which last for up to a week. Many don’t even know that they are sick.
Despite the shock of this quickly spreading disease, it's important not to respond with fear, which can hinder prevention efforts. World Vision's offices in the region are already preparing prevention and awareness programs.
This map shows the Latin American countries where Zika has been confirmed along with the countries where World Vision is working.
Our office in Brazil has begun prevention efforts in villages and communities to reduce the spread of the virus by mosquitoes as well as coordinate with the government to help where most needed. Our emergency response and health teams are also planning and coordinating our approach in other affected countries in the region. In each country, we are working closely with the ministries of health as well as the international community to combine response efforts.
Our overall experience in the fight against Ebola in West Africa over the past two years has proved how critical it is to work with respected local leaders, including those of churches, to get out accurate prevention messages and to dispel any misinformation, rumors, or scaremongering, which can harm efforts to tackle the disease’s spread.
In Sierra Leone, 58,000 children participate in our child sponsorship program, and over the course of the two-year Ebola outbreak and response, not a single one was infected. This success demonstrates the effectiveness of our holistic, community-based model and of integrating our response to an outbreak with those programs.
During an outbreak like Zika, it will be imperative that governments and the international community urgently commit the funding needed to boost health services, especially in poorer and over-burdened communities, to get the prevention message out, and to help people protect themselves.
Protecting pregnant women is the number-one priority. They need to receive prenatal care and education on how to protect themselves. If they get infected with Zika, they should receive medical monitoring to recognize signs of microcephaly or other disorders during their pregnancy and at birth. Microcephaly is a catastrophe for normal brain development in children and a strong social and economic burden on families and communities.
Although virologists are still trying to confirm the strongly suspected link between microcephaly and the Zika virus, poor mothers continue to be the most likely to be impacted by the condition. They will potentially be left having to provide life-long care to children with a range of mental and physical impairments. This crisis could have tragic implications for families trying to escape the burden of poverty.
Similar to combating malaria, communities must reduce the potential for mosquitoes to breed by working to eliminate standing water, and have access to bed nets and repellants. As we learn more about Zika and its effects, communities must also provide health services to assist pregnant mothers and those who have given birth to children with microcephaly. Community participation, including churches, is key to complement the efforts of governments.
World Vision welcomes the World Health Organization’s declaration of this crisis as a global emergency. We hope it galvanizes governments and the international community to respond effectively to an outbreak that is growing explosively and that will lead to potentially devastating and long-lasting impacts on mothers, children, and their communities.
What these communities need now is an injection of resources for the response and the mobilization of people and institutions at all levels—including global—to tackle this medical emergency.
There are two crucial ways that you can come alongside our efforts to combat the Zika virus outbreak right now. First and most immediate: make a donation today to help families and communities avoid contracting the Zika virus through environmental control of mosquitoes, access to bed nets and repellants, and health services to pregnant women.
And second, the greatest impact you can make is to join us in building up communities and families in the long term while building a meaningful relationship with a child. Choose a child in a Latin American country below to sponsor:
Additional reporting by David Muñoz Ambriz and Fabiano Franz, World Vision Latin America and the Caribbean Office.