The Armed Forces of several countries in the Americas are providing crucial support to public health authorities fighting the Zika virus, and are playing a key role in preventing the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a carrier of the Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses.
The Pan-American Health Organization said the Zika virus has spread so rapidly throughout the region because the populace had no previous exposure to it and therefore lacks immunity, and because the Aedes aegypti mosquito is present in all countries of the Americas, except Canada and continental Chile.
Regional cooperation between partner nations is a key component of the strategy to stop the spread of the Zika virus. On February 2nd, the Central American Integration System (SICA), which comprises the governments of Central America and the Dominican Republic, held an extraordinary meeting of heads of state to implement a regional action plan to combat the virus.
“Since there still is no cure or treatment, it is necessary to look for solutions that let us halt the spread of this terrible disease, and at the same time, allow us to control it and improve our capabilities to treat those suffering from it,” said SICA Secretary General Victoria de Avilés during the meeting.
Educating the people
On February 1st, after 4,473 cases of Zika were recorded in the country, Honduras declared a national alert, and members of the Honduran Armed Forces deployed nationwide to help the population take steps to control the mosquito.
“The Military units received instructions to aid Hondurans in different regions by setting up emergency operation centers,” explained Honduran Army spokesperson Colonel Jorge Cerrato. “This brings them closer to the population and [helps] stop this public health threat.”
In El Salvador, the Ministry of Health has treated 3,302 cases of Zika since January 1st, and about 7,000 instances of the virus since November 26th, when authorities recorded the first infection. To support the nation’s fight against the Zika virus, the Salvadoran Armed Forces (FAES, for its Spanish acronym) sent members of the Military Health Battalion to join the national seminar on the vector mosquito on January 21st.
“Our service members have been trained and taught how to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito and we work hard to provide guidance to the population about controlling nests. Our mission is to protect the people from the health threats brought on by the Zika virus,” explained First Lieutenant Franco Zelaya, coordinator of the FAES Fumigation and Cleaning Brigades, during a visit to the neighborhood of Las Palmeras in the municipality of Santa Tecla.
Citizens have expressed gratefulness to the Salvadoran service members because of their attention to detail in checking places where mosquitoes might reproduce, such as unused tires, barrels, patios, and yards. “We are relieved that these Soldiers have come to fumigate all the houses in the neighborhood and teach us how terrible it is to catch Zika,” stated Zoila Marroquín, a 48-year-old housewife and resident of Las Palmeras. “I think that now we will be more aware and destroy nests.”
The Dominican Republic’s Armed Forces are responding to the advance of the Zika virus by deploying service members to intensify support for epidemiological surveillance in coordination with the Ministry of Public Health, provincial governors, and local mayoral offices.
“Our service members are providing guidance to our citizens to raise awareness about how dangerous these diseases are, their characteristics, their symptoms, and the procedures to follow if they suspect they have contracted the Zika virus,” stated Major General José Matos, Chief of Staff of the Dominican Army, during the launch of the national seminar on Zika on January 29th.
Dominican service members have been deployed to the provinces of San Cristóbal, Azua, Pedernales, Independencia, Elías Piña, Dajabón, and Monte Cristi. Dominican authorities confirmed the first 10 cases of Zika on January 23rd. Since then, service members and Ministry of Public Heath Brigades have visited 56,216 homes and eliminated 8,506 mosquito nests, sprayed larvicide on 31,896 containers, and delivered 59,881 educational speeches.
South American action
While 220,000 Brazilian service members took to the streets to provide guidance to the populace starting on February 13th, the Argentine Army is combating the insect in provinces that have been most severely affected by the epidemic, such as Misiones and Corrientes.
The efforts of service members are coordinated by the Ministry of Defense’s Department of Logistics, Emergency Cooperation, Culture, and Community. “The tasks carried out by the Army include cleaning property, removing containers, assisting in preventive medicine control measures, and giving informational talks,” the Argentine Ministry of Defense Social Communications Office told Diálogo.
In Misiones, for example, the Monte 12 Army Brigade works with a health team providing support at the René Favaloro Hospital in Posadas. The Monte 12 Engineering Battalion and the 1st Armored Brigade are removing barrels from several neighborhoods in conjunction with local authorities in the municipalities of Goya, in Corrientes, and Tandil, in the province of Buenos Aires, reported the Army.
On January 25th, the Corrientes government declared an epidemiological alert due to the spread of dengue in the province, which has so far resulted in 31 recorded cases. In Misiones, the recent rains created favorable conditions for virus outbreaks in several municipalities.
“The governments of Misiones and Corrientes are working together with the forces to prevent and control the spread of the virus afflicting the country’s coast,” the Army stated, adding that informational talks are being organized for Military and civilian personnel and their families about the ongoing situation.
For its part, the Colombian National Army’s Health Bureau is providing training to residents on how to prevent the Zika virus. The Andean country is already the second-most severely impacted by Zika in South America after Brazil, with 20,297 recorded infections as of the third week in January, according to the Colombian National Health Institute.
“In Military units, homes, and in the community at large, we must eliminate all mosquito nesting sites, such as in bushes and flower pots,” the Colombian Army stated on its website. “Also, once a week, we must wash tanks and reservoirs used to store water for household use.”
In response to the accelerating spread of the Zika virus, the World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee declared an international public health emergency on February 1st. The Zika virus is associated with microcephaly, a serious birth defect in which a newborn’s head is abnormally small, resulting in an underdeveloped brain and other complications. Among the most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain, and headaches. Medical authorities believe the Zika virus’s incubation period – the time between a victim being infected and showing symptoms – is probably a few days to a week.