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Published in: 02/29/2016

Chan praises the health systems of Brazil and Colombia in combatting the Zika virus

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At the press conference rounding off an exhaustive agenda, a visibly moved World Health Organisation Director-General described her visit to the Pernambuco Maternity and Children’s Institute (IMIP). “What I found there were mothers devoted to their children, and health professionals doing everything possible to make them safe”, she revealed. Alongside Brazil’s Minister of Health, Marcelo de Castro, and Pan-American Health Organisation Director, Carissa Etienne, Chan appeared before journalists from all over the world after touring the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), the institution leading Brazil’s efforts to combat the threat from the Zika virus.

Chan and Etienne praised the mobilisation by all spheres of the Brazilian government, adding that the world was in debt to Brazil’s Unified Health System (SUS) for the speed and transparency with which both cases of Zika infection and the extraordinary increase in cases of microcephaly were reported. “The work being done is excellent” she declared, highlighting the region’s strengths in addressing this epidemiological crisis. “Colombia, for example, which has a very strong health system, is now studying samples of pregnant women who have contracted Zika”.

Asked repeatedly about the controversial association between the Zika virus and neurological conditions, Chan responded that the evidence supported the association and that no-one should be surprised “if cases of microcephaly start to be reported in other regions of Brazil and in other countries”. The situation, she warned, may worsen in the short term.

She played down concerns over the Olympic Games, in which she was backed by the Minster of Health. “The tendency is for the population of Aedes aegypti to grow until April, but to decline from May onwards, to reach its lowest level in August, which is when the Olympics will be held”, added Minister Castro.

Chan offered full WHO support to the countries of South America in combatting the Zika virus and declared that in coming weeks she will devote herself to raising funds to implement the Zika Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan, which was launched this month.