Brazil’s proposal for Zika response could benefit Venezuela

Brazil's health minister Marcelo Castro called for cooperation among Latin American countries to fight the Zika virus outbreak during a meeting of regional health ministers in Montevideo on Wednesday 3rd. He added that “on Feb. 11, U.S. technical experts will arrive in Brazil to hold a high-level meeting where they will determine the first steps and timetable for developing this vaccine.” The ministers agreed to share information, increase public awareness, at borders and airports, and enhance medical staff training. Pan American Health Organization's director Carissa Etienne has said that the Latin American branch of the World Health Organization needs $8.5 million to help countries control the epidemic.

The Zika virus seems to work in mysterious ways. The mosquito-borne disease has been linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly in Brazil; however, “we have 20,000 confirmed cases of Zika,” Colombia's Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria said in a media scrum outside the meeting. “Yet we don't have a single confirmed case of microcephaly. If you extrapolate the rates in Brazil to Colombia, we should have tens, even hundreds of cases.” In any case, the proposed coordinated response could benefit Venezuela the most. The country is currently in the midst of an economic crisis, as well as an 80% medicine shortage, including such home medical supplies as insect repellents and fever relievers. Authorities said last week there are around 4,700 cases of suspected Zika; Venezuelan Health Minister Luisana Melo later redacted that number to as many as 20,000, but doctors say cases likely range from 240,000 to 500,000.

More than 20 people are suffering from Zika-linked Guillain-Barre syndrome in Venezuela’s capital Caracas and in dire need of intravenous immunoglobulin therapy. “Prompt and immediate treatment is critical,” Professor of Neurology at Georgetown University School of Medicine Carlo Tornatore said of Guillain-Barre. “Delaying treatment can result in profound neurologic damage including paralysis of the face, arms and legs, loss of sensation in the extremities and respiratory failure requiring intubation and admission to an intensive care unit for a prolonged period.”  The only local maker of immunoglobulin is state-run pharmaceutical company Quimbiotec, which has not produced in months.

Meanwhile in the United States, Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a public health emergency on Wednesday in the counties of Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee County, Santa Rosa, all of which have reported travel-related cases of Zika, and has ordered officials to increase mosquito spraying in some of the most populated areas in the state. “Although Florida’s current nine Zika cases were travel-related, we have to ensure Florida is prepared and stays ahead of the spread of the Zika virus in our state,” the governor said in a statement. Florida is not only a permanent breeding ground for mosquitoes, but also the 3rd most populous state in the U.S.

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