The news headlines for the past few weeks have been flooded with Zika virus. Although Zika virus has been around since 1947, there haven’t been many human infections until the outbreak in 2007. Because not much is known about human infections, scientists are making discoveries on a daily basis due to the recent outbreaks in Latin America. Today, the headlines reported the first confirmed case of Zika Virus transmission through sexual contact, how will this change the story now?
If you were to scan the horizon of news articles over the past couple weeks, there are several discussions going on around Zika virus. Among them, are concerns like a lack of vaccines, the lack of treatment, abortion laws, putting fish in stagnant water to eat the larvae of the mosquito, postponing blood donations, examining the genetically modified mosquito as a potential reasons for the existence of Zika virus etc. the discussions around this virus have generated an array of discourse. How can one virus touch on so many different topics? It’s simple, public health relies on every possible discipline to work as a coherent whole to successfully address the issues that arise within it’s realm, which is basically almost every discipline you can possibly think of to a greater or lesser extent. What will be added to the discourse if there continues to be sexually transmitted related Zika virus?
The WHO recently declared the Zika Virus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). These words have huge implications, chiefly to “draw countries immediate attention to galvanize resources and try to stop the disease from spreading further across borders.” Since the amendment of the International Health Regulations took affect in 2007, there have only been 3 other security alerts to this level, which was swine flu (H1N1) in 2009, Polio May 2014 and Ebola August 2014, and fourth now Zika Virus February 2016. The WHO has discussed several possible key actions to take in controlling the outbreak of Zika Virus that can be found from the summary of their discussion from the emergency meeting here.
The emergence of this virus has been quite interesting to observe. The mind wonders of the multitude of social implications something like this has. Questions like, why was something like Zika virus able to so easily (relative to Ebola) be declared a public health emergency of international concern? What makes the affects of something like Zika virus encourage stakeholders to take action more quickly? Was it because the WHO received a lot of criticism for declaring Ebola too late, that they are compensating for Zika virus by declaring it a PHEIC quite early on in the outbreak? What were the mechanisms in place or people invovled that made the conversation go more smoothly to a consensus understanding? Is there a growing consciousness that people just care more? What is it about babies being born with a permanent disability on a large scale that shake the core beliefs of people around the world? How do the admonitions of governments to delay pregnancy raise alarm, concern, or fear in the population? How will society and infrastructure change when these babies grow up? Are we all going to have to worry about Zika Virus now, and hold off having babies, and for how long?
Many of the answers to these questions will be clear in due time as we follow the progression of the outbreak and the discussions it generates. One thing, however, does seem clear, that simplistic answers and bandaid approaches to trying to control Zika virus will just not do.
“Faced with the disastrous effects of the forces of social disintegration, we all tend to look for the immediate cause of whatever we perceive to be wrong with society and declare it the chief culprit – capitalism, communism, the military, international corporations, the uneducated masses, the school system, the established churches, the politicians, the clergy, the left, the right, the conservatives, the liberals, the welfare system, overpopulation, or perhaps simply human nature. But at some point, we should realize that dispensing blame to various components of the world system is a futile exercise. This is not to say that we should pronounce the guardians of the present system free of blame or deny the importance of analyzing the historical forces that have shaped today’s society. It is just that, eventually, we must abandon the tendency to satisfy ourselves with simplistic answers and focus our energies on endeavors that seek viable solutions to humanity’s mounting problems.”
From the book, Intellectual Preparation for Social Action