By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, and the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne, are arriving on Tuesday (February 23rd) to meet with President Dilma Rousseff and top Brazilian officials to assess the Zika virus situation and the country’s response.
The two international health officials are also scheduled to visit Recife, Pernambuco later on in the week. Pernambuco has been one of the states with the greatest number of reports of Zika virus infection in Brazil, with a significant number of the pregnant women who contracted the virus delivering babies with microcephaly – 182 confirmed cases and over 1,200 under investigation.
On February 16th, WHO launched a global Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan to guide international response to the spread of Zika virus infection and the neonatal malformations associated with it. The agency’s headquarters activated an Incident Management System to oversee global response to the virus.
Brazil’s Ministry of Health is currently investigating almost 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil for a link to the Zika virus. Earlier this month U.S.’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced that it was able to identify the Zika virus in the brains of two newborns who died in Northeastern Brazil from microcephaly. The government has now required all health services to register cases of Zika virus infection into a national database.
According to health analysts, government officials fear that the virus may spread more quickly in the coming months. Historically the months of March, April and May in Brazil are when cases of mosquito infections, such as dengue, are at their peak. Since late last year more than 4,000 cases of Zika virus have been reported and at least 500 cases of microcephaly cases linked to the virus have been confirmed.
After Carnival festivities, a massive campaign was launched to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito with more than 220,000 armed forces personnel going door-to-door to at least three million homes and establishments looking for and destroying the mosquito’s breeding grounds.