Over 220,000 members of the Brazilian Army, Navy, and Air Force fanned out all over Brazil on Saturday. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff declared this a “war” on disease-carrying mosquitos. Seeking to allay rising Zika virus fears among nationals and visitors, she ordered these troops to hand out instructional pamphlets to over 3 million homes.
At the epicenter of this epidemic, this virus has already infected over 1.5 million Brazilians, and is now spreading throughout the world. While only 20 percent of those affected experience flu-like symptoms, Zika has been causally linked to microcephaly in newborns who suffer from abnormally small heads and brains.
With less than six months to go before the 2016 Summery Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, this infiltration into neighborhoods is a preemptive strike against this epidemic. “The government is taking the lead but that alone won’t win the war,” she said to the press. “We need to get everyone involved.”
Seeking to drum up country-wide support, the military handed out leaflets that proclaim, “A mosquito is not stronger than an entire country.” By disbursing these flyers, the government hopes to rally everyone to take the battle into their own hands by eradicating sites of standing water that are homes to mosquito larvae.
In a show of solidarity, President Rousseff strategically accompanied the troops in Rio de Janeiro to advise dwellers of preventative measures to take. Health ministry official Claudio Maierovitch, leader at the communicable diseases surveillance department, said, “This is the great fear of the immediate future — that densely populated states will experience an intense outbreak of the virus that cannot be controlled,” in an AFP interview.
Rio de Janeiro has a population of 6.5 million inhabitants, with over a million residing in poverty-stricken favelas. Here, among tightly-packed neighborhoods, breeding grounds are endless. Thousands of dilapidated homes have no running water, and the residents rely on water tanks that often go uncovered. Also, trash is strewn throughout these areas, and attracts further infestation.
But reaching these neighborhoods and then convincing a distrustful populace to do their part is job one for the struggling government. Already, troops are purposely avoiding dozens of favelas that are run by drug lords, according to the O Globo newspaper.
Also, the weary public has long mistrusted the government for its futile fights against corruption, and broken promises in providing health services. As an example, to date, officials have been slow to communicate what is truly known about the Zika virus. Therefore, Brazilians must rely on international news sources that are deemed more reliable. Further, the President’s overall approval rating, hovering around the lowly 10 percent mark, is a clear-cut vote of “no confidence.”
The city of Rio de Janeiro, with federal government backing, has just a few months before the Rio Olympics to show progress in locally eradicating the mosquito – otherwise not only Olympic spectators, but also athletes may cancel their plans. Still, she said, “We are confident that by the time the Olympics begin we will have considerable success in exterminating the mosquito.”