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What's the key to controlling Zika?

Bnamericas Published: Thursday, February 25, 2016
What's the key to controlling Zika?

One of the main ways to control the Zika virus spreading through Brazil and other countries is by stepping up basic water and sanitation efforts to reduce the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries Zika in addition to other viruses such as yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito can lay hundreds of eggs at a time in areas that flood regularly or on the surface of stagnant water as shallow as one inch, so controlling areas where these eggs can hatch into larvae is the key to stemming the spread of the virus.

While the World Health Organization says U$56 million is required to implement its Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan for the virus outbreak, much can be done by local governments, companies and the general public in terms of basic sanitation improvements.

One of the main ways of dealing with the mosquito is by accomplishing flood control works in urban areas. This, however, is not usually determined by the public or companies, so local, state and federal governments need to do their part by being more proactive in their efforts.

Madeira river flood, Brazil (CREDIT: AFP)

Another way to reduce the population of the mosquito is by building proper solid waste treatment facilities and this means getting rid of all open-air dumps. Unlike the past when it was thought that mosquitos could only hatch their eggs in clean water, we now know that unclean water can be a breeding ground.

Piles of trash at open-air dumps can form small pools of water in which eggs can hatch into larvae that feed on organic matter and breathe oxygen from the surface. Therefore, better management of solid waste should be a priority for governments, as well as companies and the general population.

Plans for solid waste-to-energy plant in São Paulo state (CREDIT: São Bernardo do Campo city hall)

Finally, residents and construction site supervisors need to do their part by overturning all receptacles that can retain rainwater for a week or more. This problem is common at construction sites where work has been put on hold for extended periods of time.

In an initial assessment, the World Bank has estimated the short-term economic cost of Zika in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) at US$3.5bn in 2016, or some 0.06% of regional GDP.

In Brazil, although potable water supply coverage is about 93%, sewage collection services only reach about half of the population. Unfortunately, with the current investment program, it is unlikely that the country will reach its sanitation goal of universal coverage by 2033.

As such, Brazil will need to take its sanitation investments more seriously and other countries lacking coverage should follow suit.

In the meantime, it looks like the mosquito will continue to proliferate, so it might be time to stock up on your favorite repellent.

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