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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Conspiracy theories about Zika spread through Brazil with the virus

Andrew Jacobs – The New York Times, 02/16/2016

SALVADOR, Brazil — The Zika virus, some Brazilians are convinced, is the inadvertent creation of a British biotech company that has been releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to combat dengue fever in Brazil. Others here and elsewhere see it as a plot by global elites to depopulate the earth and install a “one-world government.”

And after a group of Argentine doctors asserted that a larvicide, not the mosquito-borne Zika virus, was to blame for a surge in cases of the birth defect known as microcephaly, Brazil’s southernmost state went so far over the weekend as to ban the use of the larvicide in its drinking water — even though scientists and health officials insist there is no such link.

Like Zika itself, rumors about it have replicated with viral ferocity through social media and word of mouth, frustrating the Brazilian authorities as they grapple with a poorly understood pathogen whose origins and implications are still something of a mystery. With many of the rumors started and spread abroad, Brazil’s Health Ministry has been scrambling to do damage control.

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Zika epidemic prompts pharma rush to develop vaccine

Clive Cookson – Financial Times, 02/13/2016

The global pharmaceutical and bioscience industry has responded swiftly to the Zika epidemic, with 15 companies involved in vaccine development and 20 in making diagnostic tests for the mosquito-borne virus, which is associated with birth defects.

In update briefings in Geneva and Washington on Friday, senior officials from the World Health Organisation and the US National Institutes of Health contrasted the industry’s response to Zika with its slow reaction to previous epidemics, particularly Ebola.

“We had been working on an Ebola vaccine for 10 years and had no interest from industry,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We made a West Nile vaccine several years ago but couldn’t find a pharmaceutical partner.

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