Zika poses extreme gravity to world

The World Health Organisation has declared the spread of the Zika virus as a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC), signalling the extreme gravity of the health crisis confronting the world. Rarely does the WHO issue this warning; since the enactment of the International Health Regulations in 2007, it has declared PHEICs just thrice, the Zika virus spread prompting the fourth time it has done so. The Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, is feared to cause microcephaly, a condition that results in babies being born with unusually small heads and damaged brains. Additionally, it seems to be causing a rare paralysis disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which affects people of all ages. Scientists and health authorities are still groping in the dark to figure out the Zika virus’ role in a sudden and sharp surge in a variety of debilitating illnesses. What we do know is that it is “spreading explosively” and in the WHO’s estimate, could infect as many as four million people in the Americas. Twenty-three countries in Central and South America have reported cases so far. Brazil, which is the worst hit, has reported around 4,000 cases of microcephaly since October.

Unlike the Ebola outbreak, the Zika virus does not directly cause death. However, it could push many pregnant women to go in for unsafe abortions, which could result in their death. In the absen-ce of any treatment, the health implications and the social and economic damage the virus leaves behind could be substantial. In the circumstances, the WHO has done well to swiftly declare a public health emergency as this will push scientists and pharmaceutical companies to focus attention to finding a way to neutralise the Zika virus’ deadly impact.Although the epicentre of the Zika crisis is thousands of miles away, India cannot take the threat it poses lightly. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is responsible for Zika’s spread – it is also the carrier of viruses causing dengue and chikungunya – has massive presence in India. Should an infected individual come here and be bitten by a mosquito, there is potential for the virus to spread quickly. The Health Ministry has done well to issue guidelines. It must act too to improve public awareness as panic will only compound an already challenging problem. Importantly, it is time India acted more robustly to improve sanitation and drainage systems in the country. Stagnant pools of dirty water are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Getting rid of these will help us fight an array of mosquito-borne diseases.
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