The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) said that the agreement came during an international meeting held here this week.
“Dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, and Zika—with its unfortunate complications like microcephaly, neurological syndromes, and its social and economic impact—take an especially heavy toll on our region’s most vulnerable populations,” said said the Dominica-born PAHO/WHO Director Carissa F. Etienne.
“The incidence of these arboviruses puts pressure on the region’s health systems and presents a challenge that we need to address in an integrated way, combining resources and sharing experiences and best practices developed by each country to confront them,” said Dr. Etienne.
She urged delegates to reach a consensus on a road map for the region to follow in the coming months for integrated prevention and control of these mosquito-borne diseases.
A PAHO statement issued after the meeting noted that a framework for these actions is presented in a regional strategy on arboviruses that was approved last month by ministers of health from throughout the Americas during the 55th PAHO Directing Council in Washington, D.C.
“There are currently very few vaccines available to prevent arboviruses. The strategy therefore recommends a series of prevention and control measures aimed at reducing mosquito populations, ensuring timely and accurate clinical diagnosis, and strengthening epidemiological surveillance and laboratory networks. It also emphasizes active involvement of communities in the elimination of mosquito breeding sites,” PAHO said.
Acting deputy director of PAHO’s Health Emergencies department, Sylvain Aldighieri, said “in the Americas, we have more than 500 million people living in areas at risk of Zika, dengue, or chikungunya, because of the presence of the Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries these diseases”.
Aldighieri said among the challenges this presents is the potential reintroduction of “old enemies” such as yellow fever in urban areas where the mosquito is present.
Moreover, dengue continues to infect nearly 2 million people every year, with life-threatening consequences if the disease is not detected on time. Many questions remain about chikungunya’s long-term consequences as well as its potential to cause death in a small number of patients.
In the case of Zika, Aldighieri explained that all subregions of the Americas are currently reporting cases of microcephaly or other defects associated with congenital Zika syndrome.
However, much remains to be learned about the full consequences of the syndrome, what proportion of babies in infected women are affected, and what its relationship is with other arboviruses circulating in the same area.
Aldighieri said based on the experience with Zika, the region’s countries need to remain alert to other circulating arboviruses, including Mayaro and Oropouche viruses, which could present new challenges.
The PAHO statement said that the ministers present at the meeting exchanged various ideas on the matter with. Guyana’s Health Minister, George Norton, discussing the challenges his country faced in Zika.
“All told, delegates … are looking for consensus in actions to improve epidemiological surveillance for Zika and other arboviruses, as well as clinical management of patients infected by various arboviruses.
“They are also exchanging experiences and approaches on control and elimination of mosquitoes, and working to strengthen laboratory networks that can quickly detect and diagnose arboviruses,” the PAHO statement added.
- Countries: Caribbean