IFRC launches emergency appeal to combat Zika virus and other vector-borne diseases in the Americas

Published: 2 February 2016

Panama / Geneva, 2 February 2016 - The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescents Societies (IFRC) has launched an emergency appeal for 2.4 million Swiss francs (2.3 million US dollars) to support the regional response to the Zika virus outbreak in the Americas.

The current Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak is alarming due to the high number of cases, the rapid spread of disease, and its potential association with an increase in the birth of babies with microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome. At the end of January, 24 countries and territories in the Americas had confirmed circulation of Zika virus.[1]

As is the case with dengue or chikungunya – transmitted by the same Aedes Aegypti mosquito – Zika virus affects all segments of society but has particular impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people.

“The only way to stop Zika virus disease is to control the mosquito vectors or completely interrupt the human-to-vector contact, and do so alongside measures to reduce poverty,” said Mr Walter Cotte, Director of the IFRC’s Americas Region.

The appeal launched today will support National Red Cross Societies in affected countries in terms of prevention, communication and vector control to reduce the spread of the disease.

“We have to move fast and communicate the right messages to communities,” said Julie Lyn Hall, IFRC’s Director of Health. “In the battle against Zika, knowledge is power. Empowering communities is essential in reaching and protecting the most vulnerable individuals and household.”

Vector control programmes, community empowerment and awareness campaigns are proven strategies to reduce the burden of vector-borne diseases. Red Cross volunteers can play a key role in community outreach activities for Zika prevention. However, these community activities need to be sustained to ensure long-lasting disease control.

“We need to see a shift in approach by all stakeholders, from responding to isolated outbreaks to investing in long-term integrated programming. We need to move away from a reactive response to prevention and preparedness-driven activities, leading to sustainable behavioural change,” said Mr Cotte.

“A long-term engagement with the communities at risk is the key. Grassroots organizations at community level can contribute to sustained improvement of sanitation, reduction of mosquito breeding sites and increased level of knowledge on how to protect the community from Zika,” he added.

Note to editors

Zika virus disease is named after the Zika forest in Uganda, where it was discovered in 1947 – first in a monkey, and then in the Aedes mosquito the following year. The first human case was recorded in Nigeria in 1952. South America reported its first cases of Zika in 2015. There are two strains of the virus – the African lineage, which emerged from Uganda, and the Asian lineage that is spreading in the Americas and the Pacific.

To encourage partnership approaches to reducing vulnerability, the IFRC has launched the One Billion Coalition for Resilience - an initiative bringing together aid organizations, Governments, the private sector, academia and community groups to encourage one billion people to reduce their vulnerability to natural and other hazards by 2025.

Over the past 50 years, dengue has spread from nine countries to more than 100 countries. The disease burden has risen from 15,000 cases per year in the 1960s to 390 million today. Forty per cent of the world’s population is at risk from dengue and severe dengue. Asia Pacific houses 75 per cent of those at risk.

For further information, please contact:

Benoit Matsha-Carpentier, team leader, public communications and outreach
Tel: +41 79 213 24 13 - Email: benoit.carpentier@ifrc.org

Diana Medina, Communication Manager, Americas region
Tel: + 507 6780-5395 - Email: diana.medina@ifrc.org

[1]  Source: PAHO/ http://bit.ly/1PXYdlR