THE BLOG

Brazil Confronts the Zika Virus

29/02/2016 11:29 GMT | Updated 25/02/2017 10:12 GMT

The Zika virus has created an unprecedented situation in the public health world. Until 2014, only sporadic circulations of the disease in Africa, Asia and Oceania had been registered. However, since 2015, Brazil and 24 other countries have confirmed local incidences of the virus. Although the disease does not present serious complications, the alert has been raised due to the possible association between the infection of women during pregnancy and the birth of babies with microcephaly, a congenital malformation.

As a result, the Brazilian government has launched an unprecedented task force, with financial, technological and scientific resources for the prevention of and fight against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the disease agent of Zika, and of the disease itself in both the long and short term. The budget allocated for the work will reach R$1.87 billion in 2016.

Brazil is wholly committed to fighting the mosquito. The National Plan to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito and microcephaly, launched in December last year, has a three-pronged approach: mobilisation, prevention and combatting of the Aedes aegypti mosquito; expansion and improvement of care for pregnant women and children with microcephaly; and the development of studies and research in this area.

The federal government has mobilised 19 bodies and institutes to act together in this fight, together with the participation of the Brazilian states and municipalities. A National Coordination Room was set up as part of the plan to unite action and strengthen the work. More than 220,000 military personnel and 80,000 community health officials will act directly to fight and prevent Zika across the whole country.

Brazil has taken the initiative to bring together medical specialists from around the world to conduct research in the country. The Brazilian government is coordinating this international effort, in partnership with the Government of the United States of America, for the production of a vaccine. There is constant dialogue with international bodies, such as the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the USA.

This world movement is due to the fact that the spread of diseases is a reflection of globalisation, among other factors, which has decreased distances between countries and people. The scale of this can be perceived through the new record attained by global tourism in 2015, with approximately 1.2 billion arrivals at international destinations registered - an increase of 4.4% in relation to the previous year.

Tourists and travellers heading to regions affected by Zika should take basic precautions, just as in any other part of the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) are not recommending travel restrictions, but are emphasising the need for pregnant women to take special care. They are advising them to consult with their doctor before travelling and adopt measures to reduce the presence of disease-carrying mosquitos.

Embratur (Brazilian Tourism Institute), through its 13 Brazilian Tourism Offices abroad, is monitoring tour operators and travel agents in more than 20 countries and seeking information on behaviour in the trade. We are also seeking to interact with these agents, providing them with technical information and answers to the main questions and concerns of their clients. Our aim is to help travellers feel secure about the choice of coming to Brazil, a country whose diversity attracts millions of tourists every year.

During the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the health of the participants in the world's largest sporting event will be given utmost attention. We are working hard to ensure that the Games take place safely and peacefully for the athletes, technical teams and tourists alike. The measures taken by the Rio 2016 Committee, together with national mobilisation will ensure the effective fight against the Aedes aegypti mosquito in Rio de Janeiro, the competition host city, and across the whole of Brazil. Another point worth emphasising is that the Olympic and Paralympic Games take place during the Brazilian winter, which is, historically, a period of low incidence of rainfall and therefore the disease vectors.