AmeriCares is on the frontlines of the Zika crisis, caring for patients with suspected infections and providing education on how to prevent the disease. Clinicians at the AmeriCares Family Clinic in El Salvador are diagnosing suspected Zika infections and providing ultrasounds to pregnant patients concerned about the health of their unborn babies.
Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, AmeriCares is partnering with hospitals and clinics to ensure they are well equipped to address the intensifying health crisis. We are working to improve education and prevention and ensure health providers have the medicine and supplies to provide the best possible care.
International public health emergency
The World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency on February 1 because of a suspected link between the virus and microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads and abnormal brain development. There is growing evidence of an association between the increase in babies born with microcephaly, other possible birth defects and the incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome that coincided with Zika virus infections. Currently, 38 countries and territories in the Americas have reported Zika cases. The WHO is anticipating 3 million to 4 million more Zika infections in the region in the next 12 months.
There is no cure for Zika, but clinicians can help patients manage symptoms, giving them medicine to reduce fever and pain. They can also provide education on how to protect their families from the mosquitos that carry the virus.
“It is important to not only care for patients suspected to have the virus, but also to educate families in high-risk communities on how they can stay safe,” said AmeriCares Medical Officer Dr. Julie Varughese, an expert in infectious diseases. “Eliminating mosquito breeding grounds, wearing protective clothing and applying insect repellent all reduce the risk of transmission.”
Where we are working
In Haiti, AmeriCares is working with a partner organization on a prevention program for expectant mothers, with the goal of keeping the women Zika-free until they deliver. In El Salvador, AmeriCares is developing a Zika-prevention program at its clinic, which provides primary and specialty care services for more than 60,000 patients annually, including prenatal care. As part of prevention efforts, supplies of insect repellent are being delivered to partners in El Salvador, Puerto Rico and Florida. Other Zika-specific supplies have been delivered to El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
AmeriCares, which donates medicine and supplies to U.S.-based medical teams volunteering overseas, is also providing education materials to medical professionals working in Zika-affected countries. AmeriCares is supporting more than 150 medical teams planning travel to Latin America and the Caribbean through June.
AmeriCares El Salvador Clinic
The AmeriCares clinic in Santiago de Maria, El Salvador, began tracking suspected Zika infections in early December in coordination with the Ministry of Health. In the first two months, La Clínica Integral de Atención Familiar reported just 15 cases – an indication of how uncommon it is for patients to develop symptoms. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in five patients infected with the Zika virus experiences symptoms; far fewer experience the complications that have raised concerns from health officials worldwide.
The El Salvador Clinic continues to expand its Zika intervention programs. The clinic is modifying its educational and training materials on vector-borne diseases for target groups in the community at high risk of Zika, including pregnant women, women of childbearing age and mothers who have had Zika symptoms during pregnancy. In addition, AmeriCares has delivered medicine, supplies and hygiene products to six hospitals in the National Health System of El Salvador, including those serving large numbers of pregnant women and reporting a high incidence of Zika cases.
“Our patients are not overly concerned about Zika. It is not known to be fatal and the symptoms are much milder than the other mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue fever,” said Dr. Anibal Quijano, the clinic’s medical director. “Prenatal patients are the most concerned because of the suspected link to birth defects. We have seen an 18 percent increase in ultrasound exams since November because expectant mothers want to see their babies and get reassurance that they are developing normally.”
Background in health crisis response
AmeriCares Zika response leverages the technical expertise of our health experts and our more than 30 years of experience with international health crises. AmeriCares has responded to mosquito-borne disease outbreaks in the past, from West Nile in the United States to chikungunya in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2014, during an outbreak of chikungunya, our response included support for a community health education campaign that reached more than 10,000 people in El Salvador through schools, sporting events and community centers.