Plan International responding to Zika virus as outbreak spreads “explosively”

Interviews with Plan International Australia CEO Ian Wishart available, please call Clare Price on 0490 252 743 to arrange an interview.

Child rights and humanitarian organisation Plan International is responding to Zika virus in several communities in the Americas as concerns grow over its “explosive” spread.

Zika virus has been steadily spreading across the region and has now affected 23 countries and territories. The virus has no cure nor any preventive vaccine. It is being linked to hundreds cases of babies born with shrunken heads in Brazil and has caused considerable alarm.

Plan International implements programs in 12 countries in the region and is responding in communities in some of the affected countries. The organisation’s efforts have been centred around public health promotion and mosquito control measures.

“Public awareness activities are key as cases of the Zika virus can be reduced dramatically when people take action in their own communities,” said Ian Wishart, Plan International Australia’s CEO.

“Governments and the international community must take urgent action to halt the rapid spread of the Zika virus disease across Latin America and the Caribbean,” he added.

The World Health Organisation has convened an emergency committee meeting on Monday 1 February to discuss the “explosive” spread of the Zika virus. The global health agency has warned that the virus could affect as many as four million people.

“The Zika virus outbreak poses a clear and real danger. The fight against Zika outbreak is a race against time. Urgent coordinated efforts are necessary to stop this outbreak reaching epidemic proportions,” said Dr Unni Krishnan, Plan International’s Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response.

Plan International is part of wider government coordination and efforts at the national levels to combat the spread of the virus. This includes participation in public health promotion campaigns and working with communities.

The organisation has experience of responding to other mosquito borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya prevalent in several countries in the region.

Dr Krishnan said: “We have a tough battle against the virus and the mosquitoes who carry them. While there is no cure or vaccine for the virus, its spread can be contained by intensifying the battle against mosquitoes.

The current spell of Zika virus disease was first reported in Brazil in May 2015. The cases of Zika virus in the country have coincided with an unprecedented number of cases of microcephaly, a birth defect where babies are born with unusually small heads, which can often lead to underdevelopment.

Plan International has worked on projects in El Salvador that includes introducing species of fish in sources of water where they feed on mosquito larvae. This helps to contain the population of mosquitoes that spread dengue fever. The same Aedes mosquitoes also transmit the Zika virus.

Media contact: Clare Price, Media Relations Manager, 0490 252 743