Ricardo Guzmán and his mother, Belkis, have adopted habits to prevent the Aedes Aegypti mosquito which transmits Zika as part of their daily life. In addition, they are both volunteers at the Dominican Red Cross and help their community in the adoption of those habits.
Ricardo’s alarm clock starts beeping at seven in the morning. He takes a bath and has breakfast. Like every morning, Ricardo rises and sweeps the house and yard with a broom. Also, every day he sweeps the driveway and a stretch of the narrow alley beside his house, in the area of Cristo Rey, Santo Domingo. The house is small, but he lives there with his mother, grandmother, a little brother and a “foster” sister. A cousin and aunt also live in the same alley. “This is not a neighborhood with, wow, lots of crime... There is some crime, but not much. Most of the neighbors are engaged in blacksmithing and construction. Some work in stores, convenience stores, and so on. “My neighbors are very nice people. Always working, they love to help. If a person is sick, she is the first person to be there,” says the young man.
While arranging everything in the house, Ricardo finds that one of the jerry cans where water is stored is tightly covered. Water is brought on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It is always the same. Before filling the jerry cans, Ricardo cleans each one thoroughly with his brush. He does this every three days. “I am responsible for the tanks, the bucket... the hardest tasks,” he says. At the bottom of one of the tanks there is a kind of bag. It is the Abate, the larvicide, to eliminate “water worms,” as mosquito larvae are popularly known in the Dominican Republic, and which grow in stagnant and clean water. “You have to change it every three weeks,” he explains.
He picks up a bottle in the yard and cleans the dishes from the previous day, which were left in the kitchen. In addition to soap, he applies some bleach and rinses every dish, every glass and every pot well. He does this every day. Later he will go to night school at Nuestra Señora de Altagracia, as he does every afternoon. In a few months, Ricardo turns 19 and, the coming year, he will go to college. He wants to be a doctor, “help people, cure them if they have any disease, injury... I am very interested in that. I like working with those most in need,” says Ricardo.
Four years ago, this spirit of giving to others made him become a volunteer at the Dominican Red Cross, and he spends almost all day at the branch in Santo Domingo. With his example, he spread his spirit of giving to his entire family: his older brother (who now lives in USA), his mother and a cousin are also volunteers of the Institution. “As he moved to the branch office –his mother, Belkis, teases– I went to visit him there. I liked it so much, that I am also there.”
The three of them –mother, son and Ricardo’s cousin– participate in the actions conducted by the Dominican Red Cross to combat the outbreak of Zika that is affecting the entire Americas region and the Dominican Republic. In fact, Belkis herself became ill two weeks ago, and knows very well what that felt like, “It is a bit milder than Chikungunya. Maybe that's why people have taken Zika less seriously. Nonetheless, it is tough, it is very tough. It was very painful. And besides, you have no control of yourself due to the dizziness you feel. One cannot do anything alone, you need help from others. You feel pain in your hands and feet and are almost unable to walk. It is very painful, and you feel a lot of discomfort in your eyes. The experience is not very pleasant,” says Belkis, but she smiles: “I'm already recovered and ready to continue helping others.” Belkis, herself, took action as soon as she felt the symptoms: “I stayed under a mosquito net, so that mosquitoes were unable to bite me and transmit it to others. We must try to avoid transmission. That's what we try to do in the neighborhood and the community.” She participates in the talks the Dominican Red Cross gives at schools, to provide children with advice on how to prevent the growth of the Aedes mosquito. In addition, Ricardo also gives that same advice to his neighbors, and helps them, if necessary, to eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites: “We are letting people know what they have to do. As a volunteer, I visit houses and explain to them what they need to do to fight Zika. I am also responsible for fumigations.” Once a week, he wears the yellow jumpsuit and walks the streets to spray insecticide, many of which are plagued with standing water.
When they take off the vest from the Dominican Red Cross, Ricardo and his mother continue to act against Zika, on a day to day basis, in conversations with their neighbors: “No matter where you are, on the streets, in cars, in "guaguas" (buses), you always hear talk of Zika. It has been transmitted by word of mouth,” Belkin says. “There is much talk on Zika... We are always talking about Zika with other classmates, what to do and what not to do...,” says Ricardo.
And, of course, they also act inside their house: “From the youngest to the oldest, we fight Zika at home. My little brother is responsible for throwing the trash and I check that the tanks are covered, I clean them and throw stagnant water.” Every day, in addition to sweeping, cleaning, cooking, we do school homework and clean ourselves. “That is something we do every day. It remains in one’s mind and is part of life –says Belkin– prevention is already part of our daily routine."