THE World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that Zika virus is a global health emergency, as it is almost certain that the virus is the main reason behind the rise of birth defects among newborn babies — neurological disorders and neonatal malformations — in the continent of South America.
Experts from WHO attended the first meeting of the Emergency Committee on Zika virus, during which they agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven. ‘Microcephaly’ has been defined as abnormal smallness of the head — a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development.
Last week, WHO warned about the rapid spread of Zika in North and South America, and the virus is expected to affect about three to four million people in 2016.
Zika virus is transmitted by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes. Its symptoms are similar to that of dengue and chikungunya such as high fever and headaches. It affects the fetus, causing the baby to be born with a small head (microcephaly).
Despite the fact that the virus is rapidly spreading and causing panic in North and South America, countries in the Arab world have expressed concern over the possibility that the virus will reach their land, citizens and expatriates.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Health Minister Eng Khaled Al-Faleh has affirmed that the ministry has taken preventive and precautionary measures to combat Zika virus. He pointed out the virus has become a global concern, given that the GCC population is a single mass, where citizens move easily from place to place with minimal restrictions.
The minister emphasized that preventive and protection measures against contagious diseases continue to be the principle of joint work in this regard … (Sharq Al Awsat Daily, Feb 2).
We take this opportunity to ask our young minister of health and his ministry’s personnel about the preventive measures they have taken to protect our community from ‘Zika’, considering the entire world has marshaled to fight against it.
I hope you — the ministry — will not be distracted by repercussions of the recent interpellation from this serious incident. Do not think that increasing the number of those undergoing overseas medical treatment, as we have been hearing, will cure those infected with Zika virus.
I also hope you will not be distracted by news about the reshuffling and freezing of medical and administrative capabilities in your ministry which is, to say the least, an unprecedented move towards protecting our communities from the devastation caused by the deadly virus.
We remind you that the fight against this health devastation is in the core of your ministerial duties, as well as the timid statement made by the assistant undersecretary for public health that the virus has not reached Kuwait.
To the health minister, combating Zika and its effects should be in line with the entire world, similar to what the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has done. I hope the message has been received.
Zika virus should not be downplayed.
By Ali Ahmed Al-Baghli
Former Minister of Oil