Las epidemias de enfermedades transmisibles en el mundo desarrollado ya son lo suficientemente lamentables desde una perspectiva sanitaria. Pero también tienen serias implicancias en términos de la justicia social, porque exacerban prolongadas crisis de derechos humanos, afectando una prestación de servicios públicos de por sí débil y profundizando las desigualdades existentes.

Al igual que el brote de Ébola de 2014 en África occidental, el brote de Zika en América Central y del Sur en 2015 afectó con mayor fuerza a los grupos sociales vulnerables (mujeres y niños, minorías étnicas y los pobres). Como la fiebre amarilla, el dengue y otras enfermedades, el Zika se transmite por los mosquitos Aedes aegypti.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Zika virus was first disovered in April 1947 near Lake Victoria in Uganda. Isaac Kasamani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The race for a Zika vaccine, one of the most pressing priorities in global health, is at full throttle. More than a dozen companies and government institutions are working to unlock the secrets of the virus, and a vaccine could be available as early as 2018.

But available to whom? If history is any guide, impoverished communities in Africa are likely to be the last in line. And this despite a mounting body of evidence that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, poor families in Africa might bear the greatest burden of the disease.

Indeed, much of what we have taken for granted about Zika — that it is a threat unique to the Western Hemisphere; that it may only recently have evolved the ability to cause microcephaly and brain damage in babies; and that it hasn’t hurt women and children in Africa — is now in serious doubt.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Zika fight, ‘don’t get pregnant’ is lousy advice

Don’t get pregnant.” Not now. Maybe not for two years.

This was the advice governments gave women in a number of South American countries when the connection was established between the Zika virus and microcephaly, a serious birth defect that can result in seizures and developmental delays. But details on how they were supposed to accomplish this in countries with limited access to contraception and strict abortion restrictions weren’t provided.

Now Zika has been locally transmitted in the continental United States. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a similar warning, saying women and men who visit affected areas, including Wynwood in Miami, should wait at least eight weeks before trying to get pregnant.…  Seguir leyendo »

Zika: The Millennials’ S.T.D.?

I am a millennial; half my peers are single and on Tinder, half are getting ready to start families. I’m also a scientist, working toward a master’s degree in bioethics. And I am more and more worried about Zika.

This summer, I co-wrote a guide for travelers to Rio de Janeiro about how to stay healthy in a place where Zika infection is common. After the Olympics’ closing ceremony, I worry that Americans will stop paying attention to the virus. They shouldn’t. Last month, a Miami hospital treated the first American known to have been infected locally, instead of while traveling abroad.…  Seguir leyendo »

An expert panel convened by the World Health Organization just declared that there is no scientific basis for canceling, postponing or moving the 28th Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August or the Paralympics in September because of the Zika outbreak. While many of us experts have expressed concerns about how WHO handled Ebola and other outbreaks, this time WHO got it right.

There are ample reasons for alarm: The Zika virus continues to spread in Brazil. Zika infection during pregnancy can have devastating effects on developing fetuses, leading to severe brain damage. The risk is so substantial that WHO has called the Zika outbreak and its effects on pregnant women a public health emergency of international concern.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Zika virus exploded out of Brazilian slums at 21st-century speeds, and raced north into Central America and the Caribbean in a matter of months. A full-blown outbreak in the United States looks imminent.

This statistically small virus is part of a global insurgency that adapts rapidly to developments of human progress. It exploits cultural dynamics: rapid over-urbanization, a changing climate and increased levels of travel and economic activity among countries.

This narrative could just as easily describe the growth of international terrorism. And the same sort of well-crafted U.S. government-led strategy that was designed to combat transnational terrorism is needed to blunt this deadly mosquito-transmitted illness.…  Seguir leyendo »

If I were a pregnant woman living on the Gulf Coast or in Florida, in an impoverished neighborhood in a city like Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Biloxi, Miss., or Mobile, Ala., I would be nervous right now. If mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus reach the United States later this spring or summer, these are the major urban areas where the sickness will spread. If we don’t intervene now, we could begin seeing newborns with microcephaly and stunted brain development on the obstetrics wards in one or more of these places.

There are many theories for Zika’s rapid rise, but the most plausible is that the virus mutated from an African to a pandemic strain a decade or more ago and then spread east across the Pacific from Micronesia and French Polynesia, until it struck Brazil.…  Seguir leyendo »

Genetically modified mosquitoes are in the news for good reason: They may be our best hope for controlling the mosquito-borne Zika virus. The Food and Drug Administration has issued a preliminary finding of no significant environmental impact and is seeking public comment on a plan to test them in a field trial in the Florida Keys.

So you might think this will resolve the Zika crisis, which has caught the world’s attention because of an unexpected spike in microcephaly in babies born to women infected during pregnancy and in the incidence of the paralytic Guillain-Barré syndrome in Zika-infected adults.

You’d be wrong.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Obama recently proposed a $1.8 billion emergency funding package to assist federal agencies in managing the Zika outbreak abroad and preventing it from spreading domestically. Stopping or slowing this mosquito-borne disease, which has now been reported in more than 20 Latin American countries and 20 U.S. states, would seem to be a non-partisan priority — if not for humanitarian reasons, then for unadulterated self-interest. Mosquitoes don't respect international borders and when they seek out bloodmeals they don't discriminate on the basis of party affiliation. Nevertheless, the request for Zika funding inexplicably ran into trouble almost immediately.

The Zika virus is native to Africa, as is its major mosquito vector Aedes aegypti.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ebola was a brutal wake-up call not only for people across West Africa, but also for the global health community whose job it is to prevent such disastrous outcomes. The United Nations, nonprofit organizations and foreign governments all promised to do better next time.

The first good sign came on February 1, when the World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern, rather than waiting many more months as it had during the Ebola epidemic.

But global health experts have forgotten an even more important lesson in the fight against Ebola: Don't just act, listen.

During the Ebola outbreak, millions were spent to develop and deliver simple, generic messages about the disease and how to mitigate infection rates.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman who is seven months pregnant installs a mosquito net over her bed in Cali, Colombia on Feb. 17. (Luis Robayo / AFP/Getty Images)

When the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a global emergency, it also claimed that the disease was tied to increased cases of microcephaly in babies. A day later, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, which actively promotes the view that “access to abortion is a matter of human rights,” was putting pressure on countries in Central and South America to change laws that protect prenatal children from violence.

Other abortion rights activists seized on this new moment of opportunism. The blog ThinkProgress described it as “The Zika Virus' Unlikely Silver Lining.” Slate's feminist XXFactor blog sounded hopeful that Zika would be Latin America's “rubella moment” — recalling that, in the 1950s, rubella's association with birth defects began to make otherwise illegal abortion palatable in America.…  Seguir leyendo »

Un mosquito 'Aedes Aegypti' fotografiado en un laboratorio de San Salvador (El Salvador). MARVIN RECINOS AFP

La posibilidad de que una picadura de mosquito durante el embarazo pueda estar relacionada con defectos congénitos graves en los recién nacidos ha alarmado a la población y ha asombrado a los científicos. El 1 de febrero de 2016, la OMS declaró que los casos de microcefalia y las complicaciones neurológicas asociadas a la infección por el virus del Zika constituyen una Emergencia de Salud Pública de Importancia Internacional. Desde entonces, la evidencia que apoya esta correlación es cada vez más convincente.

El tipo principal de mosquito que transmite el zika, el dengue y el virus chikungunya es el Aedes aegypti, un enemigo importante y especialmente generalizado.…  Seguir leyendo »

Los mosquitos no conocen de fronteras; tampoco el miedo. Mientras los expertos en salud pública lidian con el virus del Zika, el pánico sigue propagándose por el mundo. Sin embargo, la crisis trajo a la luz dos verdades importantes.

La primera revelación es cuánto se han degradado los sistemas de salud pública en América Latina y en otras partes. Esto no sucedió por casualidad. En gran medida, es el resultado de la manera en que los prestadores a tasas preferentes, como el Fondo Monetario Internacional, presionaron a los países en desarrollo para que redujeran los gastos en el sector social, incluido el gasto en salud, a partir de 1980.…  Seguir leyendo »

A baby boy is attended to in Bonito, Brazil on Jan. 30. The child was born with microcephaly, and screams uncontrollably for long stretches. (Felipe Dana / Associated Press)

The Zika virus headlines may seem disturbingly familiar — with good reason. Although Zika and Ebola are very different contagions that cause distinctive diseases, there are startling similarities in how the two epidemics unfolded.

Both were detected late. By the time health authorities understood that we were in the midst of an Ebola outbreak, the virus had been spreading for months and across multiple international borders. We are only now starting to piece together the magnitude of the Zika crisis, but the more than 20-fold surge in reports of microcephaly — a neurologic birth defect believed to be caused by Zika infection in pregnant women — last year in Brazil suggests that extensive viral spread in late 2014 and early 2015 went unnoticed.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Zika Virus and Brazilian Women’s Right to Choose

Brazil is in a state of crisis. Since October, there have been more than 4,000 suspected cases of babies born with a neurological syndrome associated with the Zika virus. The Health Ministry has suggested that women avoid pregnancy until the epidemic has passed or more is known about it.

I am a Brazilian woman. My friends who are planning to have children soon are worried about Zika. But they don’t need to be too concerned. In our well-to-do neighborhood in Brasília, the capital, there has not been a single case of a baby with the birth defects associated with the Zika epidemic.…  Seguir leyendo »

No need to panic over Zika

Zika, the mosquito-borne virus spreading through the Americas that has been linked to thousands of babies born with underdeveloped brains (microcephaly), is just the latest disease to spread panic around the world. And wait! News just in that it can be sexually transmitted too!

There is real cause for concern here. The virus is almost bound to spread to the rest of the world, except those parts with winters severe enough to kill off the two species of mosquito that bear it, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopicti. And these mosquitoes are active during the day (unlike the Anopheles mosquitoes that spread the malaria parasite), so insecticide-treated bed nets don’t offer much protection.…  Seguir leyendo »

A health ministry employee fumigates against the aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in El Salvador, on 21 January 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

A rise in birth defects in the Americas is increasingly linked to Zika virus, previously undetected in that part of the world. Regardless of the underlying cause for these congenital abnormalities, the key to success lies in strong global health leadership. While some lessons from the Ebola outbreak can be applied, this new threat presents a different challenge and needs a different response.

Origins of Zika

In December 2015, the journal Nature asked infectious disease experts to predict which pathogens would trigger the next global crisis. None suggested Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease first identified 70 years ago in Africa. Yet, a month later, the World Health Organization (WHO) is ‘deeply concerned’ and predicts up to four million cases in the Americas over the next year, including in the United States.…  Seguir leyendo »

Zika, Mosquitoes and the Plagues to Come

Every time there is a major infectious disease outbreak that scares us — Ebola in West Africa in 2014, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on the Arabian Peninsula in 2012 and in South Korea in 2015, and now the Zika virus in South and Central America and the Caribbean — government leaders, the public and the news media demand explanations, guidance and predictions, and often express indignation that not enough was done to prevent it. Today everyone is asking about Zika: How did this crisis happen, and what do we need to do to make it go away? We immediately forget about the outbreak that came before it, and don’t plan for the ones we know are on the horizon.…  Seguir leyendo »

Taraneh Shirazian, obstetrician and gynecologist at New York University Langone medical center has been seeing some very worried women — those with pregnancies who have traveled through Latin America and the Caribbean in the last few months. As the scale of Zika virus outbreak becomes apparent, they are terrified that their unborn children may have been affected.

She struggles to know what to tell them about the risk they may face. The data is simply not available. What is clear, however, is that the Americas appear to be facing a health crisis on a scale and potential complexity that could be compared to West Africa’s 2014 Ebola outbreak.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Nov 8, the residents of a suburb of Key West will vote on whether to allow scientists to release genetically-modified mosquitoes into their backyards. Inserted into the mosquito's genetic makeup would be an artificial stretch of DNA that renders them unable to reproduce. As the “transgenic” mosquitoes mate with wild ones, the plan goes, their offspring would die, bringing the local population of skeeters down significantly — by as much as 90 percent, according to Oxitec, the for-profit firm that wants to release the modified mosquitoes. That would potentially reduce the risk to local residents of catching mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and Zika.…  Seguir leyendo »