Less than a month ago, on November 18th, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the Zika virus is no longer a public health emergency of international concern. It does, however, continue to present a serious public health concern in the Americas, especially to the most vulnerable populations like women of childbearing age. To date, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has registered over 515,000 suspected Zika cases, of which more than 170,000 have been confirmed. In addition to this, Zika has been linked to congenital syndromes in newborns and neurological syndromes in adults.
While Zika no longer formally represents a public health emergency of international concern, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) considers that the number of cases in the Americas, as well as the associated complications in adults and children, require an integral and sustainable response. Within this context, on November 30 and December 1, the IFRC Americas Regional Office, through its Zika Operation, held a two-day Lessons Learnt workshop in Panama City. The main objective of the workshop was to exchange experiences, analyze the Operation’s actions and collect lessons learnt and best practices.
The Zika Operation workshop brought together 16 National Societies from Latin America and the Caribbean. Other Red Cross entities were also among the participants, including the Red Cross Caribbean Disaster Risk Management Reference Centre (CADRIM), the Reference Centre for Institutional Disaster Preparedness (CREPD), and the Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support. In addition, PAHO, UNICEF, Save the Children and the Quindío University also participated, making an important contribution to the workshop’s content and discussions.
The Operation has been actively working in four technical areas: Community-Based Epidemiological Surveillance, Community Engagement and Accountability, Vector Control and Psychosocial Support. The workshop allowed the Operation and National Societies to perform an in-depth review of the actions, best practices and challenges in each of these areas. In addition, National Societies had the opportunity to learn about experiences in different countries.
One of the main lessons learnt from the workshop is the need to ensure sustainability of Zika prevention and response actions via a smooth transition from an operational to a programmatic approach. The key for this is excellent integration and coordination between the many actors involved in Zika-related activities, including implementing partners, participating communities and local authorities to achieve positive behavioral changes.
“The Zika Operation has been built with a long-term vision in mind. Now, we need to continue working together to foster both institutional and community capacity to make sure that our actions, and those of communities, become sustainable to address Zika and be better prepared in face of future public health emergencies.” – said Walter Cotte, IFRC Americas Regional Director.
This to say that the transition should be based on continuing to deliver high quality interventions in the region, along with constant improvement in the main technical areas of the Zika response. It is also necessary that all interventions involve strong community engagement components to strengthen community-based actions. As such, the IFRC looks to continue providing tools, technical support and capacity building opportunities to National Societies to promote the best possible outcomes when it comes to combatting the Zika virus.