The Zika virus is currently spreading through Central and South America, with no signs of stopping any time soon. The previously rare virus has been linked to microcephaly, a condition in which a newborn has an abnormally small head, and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disease that causes muscle weakness and paralysis. The effects of the virus are just now starting to come to light from the outbreak of the virus that began in Brazil last spring, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the victims of the Zika virus need help.
It's a little hard to understand the impact of the Zika virus because it's not as deadly as the recent Ebola or bird flu pandemics. As Australian writer Peter Curson put it, “Given our experience with dengue and other mosquito-borne infections we tend to be governed by the rubric: 'If it kills us, then we do something about it. Whereas, if it just debilitates and incapacitates, we tend to live with it.'"
But the virus is unexpectedly insidious. About 80 percent of infected people are asymptomatic, so those who don’t appear sick may still be transmitting the disease. Even those who do come down with symptoms could easily mistake the fever, headache, and joint pain as some other, less serious infection. Also, very little is known about the Zika virus and how it is linked to the more serious complications, which definitely intensifies the scary factor.
No one is arguing that the Zika virus shouldn’t be cured, or that the victims don’t need help — the question is how best to accomplish these goals. If you want to help victims of the Zika virus, here are five ways you can make a difference:
Child Fund International
Unfortunately, the babies born with microcephaly are the most affected by the Zika virus. Children born with microcephaly are susceptible to numerous life-long health problems, including seizures, developmental delays, and hearing and vision loss, as well as a drastically decreased life expectancy. These children will need special care throughout their lives, and Brazil has a relatively low concentration of doctors. You can help by donating to Child Fund International, which has provided rural health care to Brazilian children for 47 years.
Zika victims who develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome can receive special treatments of blood plasma, but the blood banks in Brazil are critically undersupplied. By donating to The Red Cross in Brazil, you can help find a solution to the blood shortage and help Zika patients.
Women in affected countries have been urged to postpone pregnancy for up to two years to prevent babies born with defects. However, family planning education isn't readily available to many women in impoverished areas, and abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape. The charity Catholics for Choice, an international organization working to change reproductive restrictions in Central and South America, is helping provide women with the resources to avoid pregnancy while the Zika virus circulates.
Because transmission occurs mainly through mosquitoes, nets could greatly reduce the spread of the Zika virus. UNICEF has delivered over 26 million mosquito nets to countries around the world, and works to stop the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses. A donation to UNICEF should help avoid further transmission of the Zika virus.
Lobby For Funding
The World Health Organization, leader in global health crises, is funded by contributions from member states of the United Nations. Write to your representative to urge him or her to support global health and infectious disease research and stop the spread of the Zika virus.
The global health community is already mobilizing to fight the Zika virus, and the amount of attention that the crisis has attracted will certainly help find solutions to the short- and long-term problems that the virus presents. By doing your part, you can help save lives now and prevent future illnesses too.