Zika in­ac­tion is de­plorable

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page -

TWO weeks af­ter ASEAN health min­is­ters agreed to step up the shar­ing of in­for­ma­tion on the Zika virus, the most in­formed and cred­i­ble data about ASEAN coun­tries is from the other side of the world. Not only are Thai­land’s Pub­lic Health Min­istry and its coun­ter­parts dol­ing out in­for­ma­tion like it was ra­tioned, the US Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion has bet­ter, more cred­i­ble ad­vice. This dis­con­cert­ing sit­u­a­tion is un­ac­cept­able.

Late last week, the Thai health min­istry con­firmed Zika in­fec­tions had caused mi­cro­cephaly in two new­borns. This tragic de­fect, which causes ba­bies to be born with ab­nor­mally small heads, is well known in the Amer­i­cas, but is new to South­east Asia. But as a con­se­quence of an out­break in Sin­ga­pore, au­thor­i­ties promised to take con­trol of in­for­ma­tion for the en­tire ASEAN re­gion.

Two weeks ago, the 10 ASEAN min­is­ters of health held a tele­con­fer­ence to ad­dress the Zika virus threat. Pub­lic Health Min­is­ter Piyasakol Sakol­sa­tayadorn claimed the min­is­ters would “make mon­i­tor­ing and de­tec­tion fast and ac­cu­rate”. Since that ses­sion, grandiosely named the ASEAN Health Min­is­ters’ Spe­cial Video Con­fer­ence, no re­sults have been ev­i­dent.

Here is a dra­matic ex­am­ple of ex­pec­ta­tions de­flated. Im­me­di­ately af­ter the Septem­ber 19 con­fer­ence, Mr Piyasakol talked tough. He would or­der house owners to get rid of mos­quito lar­vae. Any fail­ures would bring “a max­i­mum fine” on charges of al­low­ing the spread of an in­fec­tious and dan­ger­ous dis­ease. One awaits the or­der, fol­lowed quickly by the first harsh ex­am­ple.

There is cur­rently nei­ther a pre­ven­ta­tive vac­cine nor any type of re­lief or cure for the Zika virus. The same is true of other dis­eases car­ried and trans­mit­ted by the aedes ae­gypti mos­quito. Dengue is more deadly than the Zika virus, which usu­ally causes a few days of dis­com­fort to its vic­tims. But the harm of Zika is that it passes from mother to child and causes de­for­mi­ties. An in­fected wo­man need not even be preg­nant at the time of a Zika at­tack, since the virus will linger as a dan­ger for months and pos­si­bly years. The virus may also cause the Guil­lain-Barre syn­drome and other neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions.

This is why the CDC last week de­clared the Zika virus as “en­demic” through­out vir­tu­ally all of ASEAN. It ad­vised not just preg­nant women, but al­most all women of child-bear­ing age to “post­pone nonessen­tial travel” to Thai­land, Brunei, Cambodia, In­done­sia, Laos, Malaysia, Myan­mar, Sin­ga­pore, the Philip­pines and Viet­nam.

But the in­sid­i­ous Zika virus also in­volves males. Men with part­ners who are preg­nant or con­sid­er­ing preg­nancy who travel to ASEAN “should talk to their med­i­cal provider on how to avoid sex­ual trans­mis­sion of Zika in­fec­tion to their part­ners”, said the CDC.

None of the above has been passed from this govern­ment to Thai cit­i­zens. Of course, the travel in­dus­try will not face this cur­rent truth. Visi­tors might ac­tu­ally value their own health and their chil­dren’s over a hol­i­day in Thai­land. Hold­ing back all pub­lic dis­clo­sure of the CDC’s an­nounce­ments cer­tainly does not match the pub­lic prom­ises by Dr Piyasakol and his ASEAN col­leagues to share data and step up re­search.

The con­stant re­ac­tion of this govern­ment to with­hold vi­tal in­for­ma­tion has run in par­al­lel with its re­fusal to con­sult the pub­lic on im­por­tant mat­ters. “Don’t panic” is not an ac­cept­able re­sponse to the Zika out­break and to the dis­cov­ery of in­fec­tions in new­born ba­bies.

An anti-mos­quito cam­paign, com­plete with wide­spread in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns, is over­due, as are Dr Piyasakol’s threat­ened heavy fines on those who refuse to co­op­er­ate. The govern­ment is not pre­pared for this pub­lic health threat, and needs the pub­lic’s help and sup­port to fight it.

Photo: AFP

A city worker sprays with a fu­mi­ga­tor to kill mos­qui­toes in an ef­fort to con­trol the Zika virus at a school in Bangkok on Septem­ber 14.Thai health au­thor­i­ties have con­firmed cases of mi­cro­cephaly in two ba­bies were caused by the Zika virus.

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