The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, and the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne, are meeting this week with top Brazilian officials, including Minister of Health Marcelo Castro, to assess the Zika virus situation and response.

South America/CIA
South America/CIA

In their visit to Brazil, Chan and Etienne will meet with President Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at the Presidential Palace. They are scheduled to visit the National Center for Risk and Disaster Management (Cenad) for discussions with top cabinet members, including the ministers of health, national integration, defense, foreign affairs, social development and fight against hunger alleviation, as well as the secretary of government and the executive secretary of the Ministry of Education.

As part of their assessment of actions taken by Brazil in response to Zika virus infection and its possible consequences, Chan and Etienne will be in Recife, Pernambuco, on Feb. 24 to visit the Institute of Integrative Medicine Professor Fernando Figueira (IMIP), a clinical research center that is the National Referral Center for Mother and Child Care Programs. WHO Executive Director for Outbreaks and Health Emergencies Bruce Aylward will accompany them.

In addition, a group of experts convened by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO / WHO) is working in Colombia this week to support the country’s efforts to respond to the outbreak of Zika virus. Colombian health authorities report that nearly 37,000 people have been affected, including 6,300 pregnant women.

“This is the first mission with various technical components to support countries in response to Zika virus,” said Pilar Ramon-Pardo, PAHO’s advisor on Clinical Management of Epidemic Diseases who is coordinating the mission.

The mission, which ends Friday, is aimed at exchanging experiences on epidemiological surveillance and treatment of cases of Zika virus, and to study the issues surrounding possible neurological complications associated with the virus, such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). Experts are also analyzing and monitoring Colombia’s current surveillance of pregnant women in case of possible cases of microcephaly. “This mission is also in line with PAHO’s strategy to enhance the capacity of countries to respond to Zika virus in the Americas, Ramon-Pardo added.

Zika, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is a new virus in the Americas. Since Brazil reported the first cases of local transmission in May 2015, the virus has spread to 29 countries and territories in the Americas, a situation that is compounded by the possible association with GBS cases and microcephaly.

Colombia’s Vice Minister of Health, Fernando Ruiz, said, “We have a plan of action that began long before the arrival of cases of Zika in Colombia. We also work with our central laboratory; we issue guidelines for handling, treatment and prevention, in addition to developing contingency plans and risk communication activities.” To develop strategies with municipalities, authorities tour the country to coordinate actions with the departments and localities under the initiative “La vuelta a Colombia,” or “Around Colombia.”

During the mission, experts are meeting with officials and technical experts from the Ministry of Health, visiting the laboratory of the National Institute of Health and some are traveling to areas of the country where cases of Zika virus have been reported.

PAHO has developed a strategy to help countries mitigate the impact of Zika virus, through strengthening their capabilities to detect the introduction and spread of the virus, reducing mosquito populations, ensuring the necessary health services, and communicating effectively with the public about risks and prevention measures.