Zika virus confirmed to cause severe birth defects, microcephaly
Scientists at the USA Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed that the Zika Virus causes microcephaly and other severe birth defects.
“This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly. We are also launching further studies to determine whether children who have microcephaly born to mothers infected by the Zika virus is the tip of the iceberg of what we could see in damaging effects on the brain and other developmental problems,” said Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC.
In February the World Health Organisation declared the Zika virus "a public health emergency of international concern". The explosive spread of the virus is causing great concern internationally – and particularly in Latin and South America - where thousands of infections, including among pregnant women, have been recorded.
World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello welcomed the WHO declaration and said international agencies were in a race against time to stop the spread of the potentially devastating outbreak, which is blamed for birth defects. WHO has warned it expects three to four million cases.
"The terrible lesson of the Ebola epidemic is that the international community was too slow to act,” Mr Costello said. “World Vision will bring all available resources to the fight against Zika."
World Vision Australia director of Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Daryl Crowden said that in Brazil, World Vision had already started prevention efforts in villages and communities to reduce the spread of the virus by mosquitoes as well as coordinate with the government to help where most needed.
World Vision is working closely with health officials and international agencies in affected countries to combine response efforts. World Vision’s global experience combating the Ebola virus in West Africa proved how critical it is to work with respected local leaders, including faith leaders, to share accurate prevention messages and to dispel misinformation.
Mr Costello said it was imperative that governments and the international community urgently commit the funds needed to boost health services in affected nations, especially in poorer communities, to improve prevention measures and to help people to protect themselves.
Communities must reduce the potential for mosquitoes to breed, have access to bed nets and repellents, and provide the health services to assist pregnant mothers and those who have given birth to children with microcephaly – a rare but brutal condition that shrinks the brains of unborn babies.
World Vision welcomes the WHO’s declaration of this crisis as a global emergency. Mr Costello said the declaration must now galvanise governments and the international community to respond to an emergency that is growing explosively and which will lead to potentially devastating and long-lasting impacts on mothers, children and their communities.
"What is now needed is an injection of funding and the mobilisation of people and institutions at all levels – including global - to tackle this horrific medical emergency," Mr Costello said.
Find out more about how World Vision responds to emergencies.