Zika: Why didn’t we learn more from Africa where it emerged since 1952? (26/02/2016)

Zika, WHO, Margaret Chan, Fadila Chaib, Brazil, Cabo verde, Gabon, Afrika, Virus, microcephaly,Although the horrifying outbreak in Brazil has been strongly brought to our attention, Zika is present in roughly 48 countries, two of which are African: Cabo Verde and Gabon. So far, it has been reported that the impact of Zika is greater at the moment in the South American region. Frequent reports have been issued upon the presence of Zika and its effects in Brazil, however the emergence of the virus can be traced back to over 60 years ago in Uganda. Would we have been more prepared to face the current Zika outbreak if there had been more research and more awareness raised on its impact upon Africa?

(United-Nations- GENEVA)-As stated by the spokesperson for WHO (World Health Organisation) during a UN press briefing, there appears to be more of a natural immunity to the Zika virus in the African region rather than in Brazil. The Zika virus has had a devastating impact upon victims in Brazil, and it has started to spread across both South and Central America. It has recently been considered to be linked to the neurodevelopmental disorder, microcephaly.

Tensions and concerns are extremely high at the moment in South America regarding the possible risk that Zika could also cause Microcephaly in babies and children.

Fadila Chaib, spokesperson for WHO, has stated that in response to the dramatic rise of Zika cases in Brazil, Margaret Chan, the director general, has met with the Brazilian minister of health to evaluate the Zika situation and documents have been issued regarding mums and children with the Zika virus and how to cope with a child that could potentially be born with a small sized head.

Brazilian health authorities have recently reported the increase in Microcephaly, in which babies are born with an unusually small sized head, since the emergence of the Zika outbreak in Brazil in 2015. There is currently a real demand on health professionals for the World Health Organisation on how to make a firm diagnosis about Microcephaly and its potential association to Zika. Some recent cases in Brazil have been firmly linked to the virus and others have been more ambiguous or declared to have no association to Zika. Nevertheless this must be investigated as the number of Microcephaly cases has increased alongside the increase of the virus.

What do we know about Zika?

A disease that has been declared by the World Health Organisation, to be a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitos, the Zika virus has emerged in tropical or hot environments that are ideal habitats for the large mosquitos that transmit the virus. Given that at present, there is no specific vaccine or treatment the best prevention against the contraction of Zika is to focus on the prevention of mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika are headaches, high fevers, skin rashes and extreme muscle and joint pain, amongst others. However, very recently there have been serious concerns over the association between Zika and Microcephaly.

A brief feedback

The Zika virus has been brought to our attention due to its extreme proliferation in Brazil within the last year. Consequently, only now have many people become aware of its existence. In fact, the virus was first identified in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys and it was later found in humans in Uganda and Tanzania in 1952. Zika is fairly common in Asia and Africa. At present, scientists are saying it is too early to say whether or not East Africans in particular are immune to Zika, however it is very possible that perhaps due to overexposure, and multiple cases of the virus over the years, they may have become more immune to the virus.

Unfortunately there appears to be a lack of information and research on Zika in Africa, as this could have potentially fuelled and aided research and progression with controlling the virus crisis in South America at the moment. It could be that the possible Microcephaly association with the Zika virus has simply not been discussed or reported in or outside Africa, or perhaps after many years of coping with the virus, the people have indeed developed some sort of immunity to Zika. This could be potentially very interesting and important for health authorities and organisations to investigate further into this.

In any case, this virus is currently affecting many lives in 48 countries. In order to reduce the possible horrific impact Zika has on the brain sizes of babies and small children, it is important to try to extract as much information about the past history of the virus as possible. 

By Anouskha RAI under the supervision of El Hadji Gorgui Wade Ndoye (ContinentPremier.Com)

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