Transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, the Zika virus (ZIKV) has brought devastating consequences to Latin America and the Caribbean since a February 2016 outbreak. While symptoms of Zika are generally mild, ZIKV has been linked to birth defects when women are infected during pregnancy. Some of the most severe cases include microcephaly, a congenital malformation where babies are born with smaller than normal head size and underdeveloped brains that can lead to severe developmental disorders. The virus has also been associated with other neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare nervous system disorder that can cause temporary paralysis.
The Zika epidemic in this region has largely affected poverty stricken areas that lack access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services and were nutrition, education and health services are limited.
In response to the outbreak, the Chris Mikesell Foundation gave a $3,000 grant in 2016 to support UNICEF’s efforts to protect women and children from ZIKV and mitigate its impact. This gift contributed to:
- Prevention and control of transmission. UNICEF supported vector (i.e., mosquito) control and personal preventative measures through a communication and community-based approach;
- Mitigating the impact of Zika infection and microcephaly. UNICEF supported national authorities in determining needs and increasing capacity for providing care and support to families affected by Zika; and
- Zika Rapid Response Teams. UNICEF supported deploying these teams through affected countries and communities, providing technical expertise, contributing to reaching the affected and vulnerable populations with key communication messages on protection through social mobilization and Communication for Development (C4D) programs throughout the region.
In 2018, UNICEF is continuing to support long-term containment efforts of the Zika virus and plans to begin work on a Zika-specific vaccine and rapid response tests in the coming months. Learn more about UNICEF’s efforts related to the Zika epidemic on their website.