The World Health Organization is confronting the Zika virus head-on this week as it meets with public health organizations in Brazil – ground zero for this alarming epidemic.
On February 2 at an urgent meeting, the WHO declared a “public health emergency” as over 1.5 million people have reported being infected by this mosquito-borne virus. On the heels of this session, the WHO has just launched an international “Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan.” Through this initiative, it will be newly instituting policies aimed at better: surveilling the Zika virus and related disorders, instilling protective measures, and providing medical care to those affected.
One of the WHO’s long-standing missions is to “support countries to assure the availability of equitable integrated people-centered health services at an affordable price”. Further, via this on-site attention and support in Brazil, it is hoped fears will be allayed for the millions who will be attending the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.
But one major stumbling block looms – Brazil’s long-term under-funding of needed health care services. The Brazilian government has long recognized that its nationwide health care system required bolstering. In an address to the nation in June 2013, President Dilma Rousseff proclaimed that $50 billion would be devoted to health care, in addition to education. Since then, burgeoning government corruption as well as a weakened economy have scuttled these high hopes. As a result, funds earmarked for much need health care infrastructure improvements are woefully insufficient.
Looking ahead to the Rio Olympics, the Rio State Governor Fernando Pezao initiated two preemptive strikes. In mid-December, Pezao proclaimed an emergency for his state that required federal funding to help prevent, control and treat to-be-mothers who are infected by Zika. Then, just a week later, he pronounced a health care system crisis so that much needed national funds could be channeled to the city’s hospitals and medical clinics – many of which were shuttered due to insufficient funding.
At the time, he said, “We are living through a very difficult situation in the state, perhaps the most difficult of any of the Brazilian states,” he told reporters. “But we are counting on the federal government, President Dilma Rousseff and everyone else to pull the state out of this situation as quickly as possible.”
The timing of this WHO triage is impeccable. Brazil needs all the support it can get in reigning-in Zika and strengthening its health care services.
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