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TTC Special: Zika virus still dangerous for the population and Caribbean economy

TTC Special: Zika virus still dangerous for the population and Caribbean economy

Photo: lightwise/123rf

Por F. Martin

TTC Service.- Although the Zika currently makes few headlines in the Caribbean, the virus not only continues to affect the region but threatens to do so for a long time more.

The combat against the virus carrier –a mosquito, in the Caribbean and in America in general is strong but despite this, only the disease progress has been reduced. Experts predict that Zika is likely to have significant public health consequences across Latin America and the Caribbean in years to come.

Scientists describe Zika as one of the most challenging emergent vector-borne diseases, yet its future public health impact remains unclear.

The most recent studies estimate that the virus was of little public health concern until recent reports of its association with congenital syndromes. But by 3 August 2017 217,000 Zika cases and 3,400 cases of associated congenital syndrome were reported in Latin America and the Caribbean. A World Health Organization report suggest that Zika virus infection could become endemic.

Last week in Bridgetown, Barbados, a two-day regional workshop aimed at helping communication and health promotion specialist become more efficient in the use of media technologies in the dissemination of information about the mosquito-borne Zika virus and other epidemics.

According to indications the economic impact of the virus in the region could run into billions of dollars.

The World Bank estimates that the short and long term economic impact of Zika for this part of the World will be a US$3.5 billion loss to gross domestic product (GDP) with tourism dependent countries like those in the Caribbean being particularly affected.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) estimates that a 2.4 per cent decline in tourism corresponding to an adverse impact of US$200-400 million can be expected within the region.

The regional workshop intended to build regional capacity to use digital media and strategies to improve public health communication about Zika and other epidemics as well as to promote a culture of technological innovation to strengthen public health communication campaigns.

It is also intended to enhance digital literacy for public health professionals and provide a forum to facilitate the strengthening of networks of public health officials and communicators across the Caribbean region.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warned recently that in early 2016, Zika was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern due to its association with a surge of birth defects. Since then the virus spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, with local transmission also reported in parts of the USA, Asia and Africa.

Zika cause neurological complications in humans, and the emergence of a condition in infants known as “congenital Zika syndrome”. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) added three conclusions about Zika, the first that the epidemic will have a long-term impact, and countries will incur high direct and indirect costs as a result.

Second, there is a profound equity challenge at the core of the Zika epidemic. The impact is disproportionate on the poorest countries of the region, as well as on the poorest and most vulnerable groups, especially poor women in peri-urban communities.

The third conclusion is that regional and national preparedness and response strategies require strengthening and must involve affected communities.