Brazil: Project for Zika Awareness and Prevention

“It’s a Silent Epidemic”

Some mothers affected by Zika feel completely alone: Living in poor regions in northeast Brazil, they may lack knowledge about the virus and its impact on their newborns. They are among the people being helped by Harley Henriques do Nascimento, General Coordinator of the Brazilian healthcare foundation Fundo PositHiVo. Here, he speaks about their creative approach to a serious and important mission: to raise awareness about Zika and possibilities for prevention.

As the General Coordinator of the Brazilian healthcare foundation Fundo PositHiVo, Harley Henriques do Nascimento is committed to raise awareness about Zika.

 

What is Zika, and who is mostly vulnerable to this disease?
Zika is a virus that can be transmitted by mosquito bites or by unprotected sexual intercourse. The risk to pregnant women is particularly dangerous: If they are infected, Zika can cross the placenta and set off brain disruptions in the developing fetus. Thus, Zika can lead to severe birth defects in newborns such as skull deformation – microcephaly – as well as blindness, developmental delays and other neurological problems. But while Zika can be devastating in utero, most infected adults have only mild symptoms – this is why researchers have called it a “silent epidemic.” Recent cases have shown that Zika can survive in the semen of infected men for six months. And to date, no Zika vaccine is available.

 

“Almost 2,900 babies in Brazil were born with the Zika syndrome between November 2015 and July 2017.”

Harley Henriques do Nascimento, General Coordinator of Fundo PositHiVo

 

Given how serious Zika remains, why is the disease receiving less attention in the media recently than it did, for example, a couple of years ago?
In 2016, the World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern. This resulted in the disease being heavily discussed in the media – it was at the top of public agendas, worldwide, which raised attention and awareness. In 2017, however, WHO declared that Zika was no longer a global emergency. Some international researchers have criticized this decision. They feel that WHO based this decision on inaccurate annual measurements of Zika infections. They also feel these estimations did only take into account certain regions of Brazil.

 

As one initiative, the Fundo PositHiVo team organized a lively, colorful street parade called The Caravan Stronger than Zika, which brought vital health information to inhabitants of five cities in Pernambuco, in the northeast of Brazil.

 

The 2017 declaration affected resources destined for Zika virus and microcephaly research. So that’s where our foundation steps in. We aim to increase the public's awareness of Zika and educate people as to how to protect themselves.

 

Can you share some examples of the foundation’s initiatives?
We organized a lively street parade called The Caravan Stronger Than Zika, which brought information to inhabitants of five cities in Pernambuco, in the northeast of Brazil, one of the states most affected by Zika. This population suffers overall from an insufficient health system and poor sanitation. Women there also face gender inequality and a lack of information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. All of these are factors that contribute to the spread of Zika.

 

 

This street parade was the start for a bigger awareness campaign that we originated, by finding five non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with the best projects in the state. Together, they are aiming to inform the residents, specifically women, about the virus and its possible transmission routes. For example, many people don’t know that the virus can be transmitted by mosquito bites or unprotected sexual intercourse. The project members want to change that. With other activities they also specifically address Afro-Brazilian women, female fisherman and teenagers at school.

 


With its awareness campaign, Fundo PositHiVo informed the residents, and specifically women, about Zika and means to prevent the disease.

The Caravan Stronger than Zika – a lively, eye-catching approach to increase public awareness about Zika.

The Fundo PositHiVo team dressed up to catch the residents’ attention. While it may have seemed humorous, their mission was serious: passing on information to prevent new Zika infections.

Living in poor regions in Northeast Brazil, women need to be informed about Zika and its impact on newborns. Fundo PositHiVo establishes direct contact with women to promote health-protective behaviors.


Do you engage with other stakeholders in the healthcare system to raise Zika awareness?

Yes, we also meet with government representatives. We encourage them to increase women’s and young people's access to information and quality services for their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and to promote protective behavior, such as the use of condoms during sexual relations. Collaboration between all stakeholders is important if we are to effectively address public health issues and give affected people a voice. 

 

How do you help people who already are affected by the disease?
The NGOs we are working with offer psychological support and rehabilitation programs for affected children and their families. For example, it’s extremely important that children who were affected as babies can go to school. The people here are extremely open to all of us, as they felt abandoned for too long. They feel very happy that someone is concerned about them. We want to let them know that they are not alone with their challenges.

 

Established in 2014, Fundo PositHiVo is a healthcare foundation providing support to grassroots communities to address health challenges such as Zika. For example, Fundo PositHiVo brought information about the virus and ways of prevention to inhabitants of five cities in Pernambuco, in the northeast of Brazil, one of the states most affected by Zika. Alongside prevention programs, the foundation also offers psychological support and rehabilitation programs for affected children and their families. In addition, Fundo PositHiVo assists Brazilian Civil Society organizations with training to promote protective behaviors.

 

Can you describe your partnership with Bayer?

Alongside Bayer’s financial support, I also feel the strong commitment of the Bayer team in Brazil. Many of them also participated in the caravan project, by providing information during public discussions about Zika developments, for example. This donation of money and time supports us tremendously: It has enabled us to mobilize this powerful campaign and achieve some milestones in our fight against Zika. Our fight against the virus has only just begun. Together, we can be much stronger than Zika. And when we unite behind a common goal and provide women with access to information and healthcare, they too can be much stronger than Zika.