Wednesday June 19, 2019

Amid Government Silence in Venezuela, Babies diagnosed with Microcephaly struggle to Survive

In the last three months, doctors say some 25 babies with microcephaly have been examined at what was once one of the leading hospitals in Latin America

0
//
Ericka Torres holds her 3-month-old son, Jesus, who was born with microcephaly, at their home in Guarenas, Venezuela, Oct. 5, 2016. VOA

Deep inside a hilly Venezuelan slum, Ericka Torres rocks her three-month-old son Jesus to soothe his near-constant crying.

Jesus was diagnosed with microcephaly, a birth defect marked by a small head and serious developmental problems, after his mother contracted what was probably the mosquito-borne Zika virus during pregnancy in the poor city of Guarenas.

Torres said her boyfriend left after scans showed their child had birth defects, and she now struggles to afford medicine, clothes and even diapers for Jesus in the midst of Venezuela’s brutal economic crisis.

[bctt tweet=”The Venezuelan government has not acknowledged a single case of Zika-related microcephaly in the country.” username=””]

NewsGram brings to you current foreign news from all over the world.

“It’s intense. But I can’t get stressed, because this struggle is only just beginning,” said Torres, 28, a supermarket security guard who smiles easily despite barely sleeping because of Jesus’ screams and convulsions, common traits of babies born with microcephaly.

The Venezuelan government, however, has not acknowledged a single case of Zika-related microcephaly in the country.

Beyond some health warnings and a handful of televised comments about Zika at the start of the year, the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro has largely kept quiet about the virus even as neighboring Brazil and Colombia publish weekly bulletins.

Venezuela does provide data to the World Health Organization, which shows it has had some 58,212 suspected Zika cases and 1,964 confirmed ones since the virus emerged in Brazil last year and then spread rapidly through the Americas.

But it has not, however, declared any cases of confirmed congenital syndrome associated with Zika, such as microcephaly, and has not mentioned any suspected cases either.

To be sure, inadequate Zika testing has thwarted efforts to precisely diagnose Zika-caused microcephaly. But countries like Brazil have turned to clinical diagnoses and report “confirmed and probable cases” of Zika-associated congenital syndromes to the WHO, for instance.

Some doctors accuse Venezuela’s unpopular government of hiding the Zika problem amid a deep recession that has everything from flour and rice to antibiotics and chemotherapy medicines running short and spurred fierce criticism of Maduro.

NewsGram brings to you top news around the world today.

They also say government inaction means kids are missing out on targeted state-sponsored therapy programs that would help to stimulate them.

“This delays the patient’s development, because no matter how much knowledge or drive you have, if you don’t have the physical tools like materials, resources, medicines, well that delays everything,” said Maria Pereira, a doctor in Caracas.

Local media have put the number of babies born with suspected Zika-linked microcephaly so far this year at around 60. Physicians in Caracas, the western city of Maracaibo, and the coastal state of Sucre, confirmed at least 50 cases in interviews with Reuters.

Venezuela’s Institute of Tropical Medicine estimates the real number could be much higher by the end of the year – between 563 and 1,400. That estimate is based on the numbers in Brazil, which has more than 1,800 confirmed cases, and pregnancy rates in Venezuela.

Product shortages have likely aggravated the effects of Zika in Venezuela: lack of contraceptives lead to unwanted pregnancies; lack of bug spray and fumigations lead to bites; and lack of anticonvulsant drugs or state support add to the hardships of children with the birth defect.

Venezuela’s health and information ministries did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Follow NewsGram on Facebook

The government says it has one of the best health care systems in the world, pointing to free Cuban-staffed clinics in slums and social programs for maternal and child well-being. But it has stopped releasing data as the health sector has crumbled in the last two years.

No resources’

Dozens of women and babies line up in the hot, dimly lit corridors of the J.M. de los Rios children’s hospital in Caracas, often waiting hours before an overstretched doctor can finally see them.

In the last three months, doctors say some 25 babies with microcephaly have been examined at what was once one of the leading hospitals in Latin America, with the majority of their mothers reporting symptoms including rashes or fevers during pregnancy.

Physicians order exams and prescribe therapies, but the overwhelmingly poor families struggle to scrape together enough money in the face of triple-digit inflation.

That delays early intervention and the discovery of other potential syndromes that have been linked to Zika, like vision problems or joint deformities.

Follow NewsGram on Twitter

“You feel impotent that you can’t provide anything more because there are no resources,” said Pereira, who works at the J.M. de los Rios hospital. Her family has to send her food and money from the provinces because she only earns around $70 a month between her salary and food tickets.

Other poor Latin American countries have also been criticized for their response to Zika. Brazil was called slow to investigate the initial surge of microcephaly cases and doctors say Zika prevention was spotty in Honduras, which estimates it will have some 340 cases of microcephaly by the end of the year.

Doctors and opposition lawmakers say Venezuela is faring the worst and have called for foreign aid and a stronger stance from the WHO.

Venezuela has rebuffed requests for aid, with officials saying it is an attempt to justify a foreign intervention in the oil-rich country.

When asked about criticism it was not doing enough in Venezuela, the WHO’s regional office for the Americas told Reuters its role was to provide technical cooperation to member countries and that it was working to strengthen that cooperation with Venezuela’s Health Ministry.

In the meantime, families are feeling the squeeze.

Check out NewsGram for latest international news updates.

Home-based hairdresser Isabel Jimenez, her unemployed husband, and their four kids had already stopped having breakfast before the birth of Joshua, who has microcephaly, two weeks ago.

Now the family in the isolated Caribbean peninsula of Paraguana is under further pressure and has to rely on relatives for help with diapers, milk and medical appointments.

“I cried a lot,” said Jimenez, 28, of learning about Joshua’s condition. “At first I had a lot of anger and sadness, but I have to keep going with my baby because I can’t do anything else.” (VOA)

Next Story

1bn People Could be Exposed to Dengue, Zika by 2080

Dengue is the fastest growing mosquito-borne disease across the world today, causing nearly 400 million infections every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO)

0
Aedes
Dengue is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes mosquito that typically attacks during day time. Pixabay

Global warming could expose as many as a billion people to mosquito-borne diseases including dengue and Zika by 2080, says a new study that examined temperature changes on a monthly basis worldwide.

The study found that with the rise in temperature, dengue is expected to have a year-round transmission in the tropics and seasonal risks almost everywhere else. A greater intensity of infections is also predicted.

To understand, researchers from Georgetown University in the US looked at temperatures month by month to project the risks through 2050 and 2080.

While almost all of the world’s population could be exposed at some point in the next 50 years, places like Europe, North America, and high elevations in the tropics that used to be too cold for the viruses will face new diseases like dengue.

On the other hand, in areas with the worst climate increase, including west Africa and southeast Asia, serious reductions are expected for the Aedes albopictus mosquito, most noticeably in southeast Asia and west Africa, revealed the study, published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Dengue vaccine.
A Manila Health officer shows off a pair of vials of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia after being recalled from local government health centers Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. The World Health Organization says the first-ever vaccine for dengue needs to be dealt with in “a much safer way,” meaning that the shot should mostly be given to people who have previously been infected with the disease. VOA

Both Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes can carry dengue, chikunguyna and Zika viruses, as well as at least a dozen other emerging diseases.

“Climate change is the largest and most comprehensive threat to global health security,” said Colin J. Carlson, postdoctoral candidate in Georgetown University in the US.

“The risk of disease transmission is a serious problem, even over the next few decades,” Carlson added.

Also Read- Researchers Probing if Tobacco’s Native Forms Less Harmful

Dengue is the fastest growing mosquito-borne disease across the world today, causing nearly 400 million infections every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The 2018 data from the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) and National Health Profile showed that cases of dengue increased 300 per cent — from less than 60,000 cases in 2009, it increased to 188,401 in 2017. (IANS)