By Alpha Bedoh Kamara
From South America to North America, Australia, Cape Verde in Africa and other yet to be confirmed locations, the Zika virus is unsettling nations and again putting health authorities on edge in preparedness to tackle another extraordinary ailment.
Like Ebola, which ravaged the economies of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in West Africa, and causing worldwide fear and stigma against citizens of these three African nations, Zika virus is moving like wild fire in harmattan.
Presently about 29 countries are feared to have suspected cases after two Sydney residents from the Caribbean tested positive for the virus.
The level of spread of the virus is unprecedented and already a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on Tuesday February 2, 2016 that the case of Zika virus in Texas, USA, was through sexual transmission.
The World Health Organization has announced that the new, potentially birth defect-causing Zika virus will probably spread from its country of origin, Brazil, because the Aedes aegypti mosquito suspected as vector of the virus thrives in tropical and sub-tropical climates.
This is why Africa must now be in high readiness and the African Union should look at ways to engage African governments to provide a platform to address impending threat of tropical diseases, such as viruses that can easily spread in the continent.
Africa is vulnerable to these viruses and the nature of the continent’s tropical environment coupled by weak or unavailable Medicare in most African countries to address contagious viruses such as Ebola, MERS-CoV and now Zika, our people might again be preyed by Zika if the case in Cape Verde is not contained and eliminated.
Ironically, while the 20th century sees an improvement in medicare, longer lifespan and improved livelihood for millions of people worldwide it is unfortunately being marred by plethora of virus attacks bent on decapitating humanity with inexpressible disasters.
In just one year, Ebola killed more than 10,000 people in the three affected West African countries while as of July 2015, the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, MERS-CoV, was reported in over 21 countries with almost 282 deaths in Saudi Arabia alone and now Zika, making the headlines.
The virus causes microcephaly, or underdeveloped brains in children, and women in affected countries are being advised by their governments to protect themselves from pregnancy until the virus is controlled.
But how prepared is Africa to tackle this virus?
Poverty, traditional beliefs, poor or unavailable medical facilities for millions, and porous borders make Africa susceptible and an ideal ground for the virus to mushroom and spread if efforts are not taken now.
The level of travelling for businesses and pleasure is so huge so much that a case in Dubai will be felt in a village in Sierra Leone within 48 hours but African countries could protect their people by investing in medical research, especially for tropical diseases, and find local solutions to local problems.
Zika is spreading and there is now a case in Cape Verde meaning Africa must be alert and prepared for the impact. Perhaps there is already another case in another country in Africa but then how will people now?
The Director-General of WHO, Dr Margaret Chan, has already declared the Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, reiterating “A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy.”
Perhaps as I pen down my thoughts a woman in any of our villages might have given birth to a child with Zika to the consternation of the villagers but then she might have been chastised for having a bath in the night and exposing herself to bad spirits.
If not left in the bush to die, the child will be stigmatized for life, perhaps a story like this has already happened and our African leaders know how similar cases of birth defects are handled in our remotest communities, but has anyone asked questions to know why? Wake up Africa!
A case of Zika in Cape Verde must be a concern for the whole of Africa and the African Union, knowing the prevailing health challenges, should prioritized such issues and engage governments and international agencies for an African platform to research and create local remedies for local health challenges.
The Ebola crisis must serve as a reminder to the African Union not to forget the horror the people of the three affected West African countries went through, the stagnation of their national revenues and break down of social and economic stability, and ensure the memories of Ebola no longer haunt our continent again in the form of Zika.