Zika epidemic uncovers Brazil’s hidden birth-defect problem

Alex Cuadros – Washington Post, 03/01/2016

As researchers race to establish a link between the Zika virus and a birth defect known as microcephaly, one of their biggest obstacles is the lack of reliable health data in Brazil, where the epidemic broke out there last year.

Since October, Brazil’s Health Ministry has received reports of about 5,600 suspected cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with unusually small heads. Many cases have been thrown out, and many more are still being investigated, but given that the country previously reported 150 such cases per year, the number would still seem to indicate a massive jump.

Many doctors, though, say that the jump is largely illusory — based on massive underreporting of microcephaly and other birth defects in Brazil. What’s more, this poor record-keeping reflects much larger public health problems here: poor prenatal care and woefully inadequate services for children with disabilities. Until the Zika epidemic, these issues were mostly swept under the rug.

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How A Town In Brazil Reportedly Rid Itself Of The Zika Mosquito

Ana Beatriz Rosa, Anna Almendrala – The Huffington Post, 02/29/2016

Brazil has recently ramped up its fight against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads dengue, Chikungunya and Zika, the latter a virus that has been linked to birth defects. Brazil’s health minister Marcelo Castro announced in January that the country would send 200,000 members of the armed forces to help in mosquito eradication, and cities across the country have intensified strategies to combat the pest.

But a few communities in Brazil are already leading the way when it comes to eliminating the disease-carrying mosquito from their neighborhoods. One of these is the small town of Água Branca, home to 16,000 people in the state of Piauí.

Compared to other similarly sized rural towns in Brazil, Água Branca should have a mosquito problem. But in 2013, when Zika virus wasn’t even an issue, the town launched a community initiative to address rising dengue fever rates. The partnership between municipal health authorities and residents focused on eliminating mosquito hotspots, and as a result, Água Branca has reportedly been mosquito-free for three years.

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Pictures capture daily battle against Zika mosquitoes

Becky Little,  Tomás Munita- National Geographic, 02/25/2016

How do you stop disease-carrying mosquitoes from multiplying? That’s the question plaguing the Brazilian government, which has been sending army soldiers door to door on a mission to fight Zika—the virus suspected of causing microcephaly in infants born to infected mothers.

 

“They are giving leaflets saying you have to keep your backyard clean from rubbish,” says photographer Tomás Munita, who has been documenting Recife, a northeastern state capital with a population of 3.7 million. Any stray items left outside, even a bottle cap, can collect rainwater and become a breeding ground for the Aedes aegyptimosquitoes that are thought to be the main carriers of Zika.

But in Brazil’s favelas, or poor neighborhoods, Munita says it’s hard to imagine that the government’s information campaign will have much effect.

Brazil slave labor victims seek justice at Americas’ top rights court

Anastasia Moloney – Reuters, 02/24/2016

Rights groups representing scores of Brazilian workers who they say were trafficked into slavery during the 1990s said they expected the top Americas human rights court to rule in their favor in the first case of the kind it has heard.

The case heard by the Inter-American Human Rights Court last week involved 340 men aged 15 to 40, mostly poor, illiterate and of African descent, who activists say were lured under false promises to work on a vast cattle ranch in Brazil’s northern state of Para.

“Workers were subjected to death threats and were not free to leave the ranch. They didn’t have any type of toilet, and their drinking water was the same water used by cattle,” said Viviana Krsticevic, head of the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), one of two rights groups representing the victims, and who gave declarations at the court.

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Logistics cause delays on first day of Brazil Zika study

Associated Press – New York Times, 02/23/2016

JOAO PESSOA, Brazil — U.S. and Brazilian health workers seeking to determine if the Zika virus is causing a surge in birth defects ran into the chaotic reality of northeastern Brazil on their study’s first day Tuesday. Traffic and logistical problems shredded their schedule, delaying or preventing meetings with mothers and babies.

The plan conceived in the air-conditioned halls of Brazil’s Health Ministry and the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had seemed simple:

Eight teams of “disease detectives” are looking to enroll about 100 mothers of babies with microcephaly, a rare defect that causes newborns to have unusually small heads and damaged brains. They also want to sign up two to three times as many mothers of babies without the birth defect, born in the same area at around the same time.

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Army presence diminishes refusal to entry in houses, say health agents

Fabrício Lobel – Folha de S.Paulo, 02/17/2016

Behind the house curtains, Nancy Wolf, 81, a retired teacher, notices the movement in front of her gate. A man announces he works for the city hall in an action against the mosquito Aedes aegypti.

She hesitates a bit, but looks at the two Army soldiers in uniforms accompanying the health agent and allows them to enter her home.
“I don´t open the door for anyone. We get apprehensive. I felt safer just because of the Army,” says Nancy, who lives in Santana neighborhood. Part of the northern district of São Paulo underwent an operation to hunt down the Aedes larvae, promoted by the city hall and the Army.

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WHO: $56 needed million to fight Zika outbreak in coming months

Brady Dennis – The Washington Post, 02/17/2016

The World Health Organization says it will take $56 million to kickstart a coordinated international response to the Zika virus outbreak racing through much of the Americas, and the WHO plans to tap a newly created emergency contingency fund to pay for the initial efforts.

In a lengthy action plan published Tuesday,  the organization said a hefty chunk of the money will go toward disease surveillance, which will include tracking new Zika cases and the suspected birth defects and rare autoimmune syndrome that scientists suspect are linked to the mosquito-borne virus. More funding will be used to help provide counseling to pregnant women, as well as to help communities with mosquito-control programs. Still more funds will go toward research to speed the development of new vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests, as well as to study whether and how Zika is causing serious conditions such as microcephaly.

More than half the money will be spread among a collection of international partners, including non-governmental organizations and research institutions such as Unicef, AmeriCares, Save the Children, the International Medical Corps and the University of Texas Medical Branch. The remaining funds will be disbursed within the WHO and its regional offices in the Americas — known as the Pan American Health Organization — to help carry out the plan through June. Earlier this month, the organization declared the Zika outbreak and the accompanying spike in congenital brain abnormalities in newborns to be a public health emergency of international concern.

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