PQMD Members Act to Resolve Zika Health Crisis

The Zika virus has long been an endemic issue throughout regions in Africa and Asia, but during recent months as many as 1.3 million new cases have been identified in Brazil – where the virus had never previously been detected. The virus has now also been documented within 25 other countries in the Americas and Caribbean Islands. With such a vast spread already in process, the World Health Organization has upgraded the threat of this once regional pandemic to a sprawling international health crisis.

Zika, an insect vector-borne disease, is transmitted in majority through Aedes mosquitoes’ bites – though the virus can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy, and in rare cases

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JANUARY 27: Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden, the neuro-pediatrician who first recognized the microcephaly crisis in Brazil, measures the head of a 2-month-old baby with microcephaly on January 27, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. The baby's mother was diagnosed with having the Zika virus during her pregnancy. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. The ailment results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus outbreak is likely to spread throughout nearly all the Americas. At least twelve cases in the United States have now been confirmed by the CDC. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

 A two month old baby with microcephaly has his head measured at a Brazilian clinic (Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

through exposure to infected blood or sexual contact. Common symptoms of the virus include fever, rash, headache, and fatigue – all of which are usually mild and typically last for several days.

The strain originating in Brazil, however, is distinct given the potential threat it poses to pregnant women and their infants, as an elevated number of newborns have been diagnosed with microcephaly and other serious neurological disorders since the emergence of the Brazilian strain. Many of these children were born to mothers who had reported symptoms consistent with Zika during their pregnancies – leading heath officials to suspect the virus’ role in causing such birth defects.

Many PQMD members have been monitoring the situation, and are already responding to the wide reach of this viral outbreak. Through targeted approaches for the communities affected, PQMD members aim to mitigate and eventually end the spread of the Zika virus.

The Zika virus is transmitted primarily by the Adeas mosquito. (source: James Gathany/CDC)

The Zika virus is transmitted primarily by the Aedes mosquito. (source: James Gathany/CDC)

The first measure a majority of members have engaged in is prevention. By targeting and reducing the chances of initial infection, communities can stand stronger against Zika. Direct Relief and World Vision are supplying donations of bug repellent and mosquito nets for their partners. AmeriCares plans to support Brazil’s Ministry of Health and Civil Protection with provisions of insecticidal fog generators for fumigation. Sanofi US, for their part, prepares to initiate prevention measures through health awareness campaigns.

Secondly, many members have focused on educating communities at highest risk for contracting the disease. AmeriCares has been educating, through communal sessions, individuals on ways the vector-borne virus is spread. The Catholic Medical Mission Board has raised awareness of the Zika virus and its impact for pregnant women, as well as education for the elimination of mosquito breeding grounds. In Haiti, Heart to Heart International has also been instructing patients in clinics on the elimination of standing water – known breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that are potential carriers for Zika. Additionally within Haiti, International Medical Corps has begun to include messages about mosquito bite prevention in ongoing public health messaging.

Finally, PQMD members have been committed to treatment and advocacy projects – to best assist those most gravely affected and to find methods to prevent the possibility of future infection. MAP International and The Catholic Medical Mission Board, for example, have responded by sending containers of supplies, including products to combat Zika symptoms, in the areas they serve. Baxter has supplied strategic product donations to Direct Relief and AmeriCares for use in disaster response situations. As a result, Direct Relief has provided IV solutions and fever reduction & pain reliever products to affected areas, and AmeriCares has sent provisions of Zika Pregnant Mother Kits (ZPMKs) to help currently pregnant women remain Zika free until they give birth. World Vision has matched individuals to appropriate health care services as well as supporting the accelerated development of Zika virus disease vaccines and diagnostic tests. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF has announced an appeal worth nearly 9 million dollars to secure treatment and support for affected populations. In addition, Sanofi US has launched vaccine research and development project to target the Zika virus specifically.

As the situation continues to develop, PQMD members stand ready to respond and assist as necessary to this ever-changing global health challenge.