Via The New York Times: How the Response to Zika Failed Millions. Excerpt:
Almost a year ago, the World Health Organization declared the Zika epidemic a global health emergency, calling for an epic campaign against a virus that few had ever heard of. As it spread to almost every country in the Western Hemisphere, scientists and health officials at every level of government swung into action, trying to understand how the infection caused birth defects and how it could be stopped.
The W.H.O. ended the emergency status in November, but the consequences of the outbreak will be with us for years to come. So maybe now is a good time to ask: How’d we do?
Not so great, according to more than a dozen public health experts who were asked to reflect on the response. The battle was a series of missed opportunities, they said, that damaged still-uncounted numbers of babies across a whole hemisphere.
“Latin America was pretty much left to its own devices,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “I didn’t see the kind of interactive response like the one that brought Ebola under control.”
Yet there were some notable successes. The biggest was that travel advisories issued in January kept many pregnant tourists and business travelers from venturing to areas where they might have been infected, with terrible consequences.
The Rio Olympics went ahead without spreading the virus, and new diagnostic tests for Zika were swiftly designed and deployed. Scientists are moving ahead with multiple vaccine candidates and new ways to fight mosquitoes without pesticides.
But the positives were counterbalanced by many negatives, experts said. They harshly criticized the partisan bickering that delayed a Zika-funding bill in Congress for months, and they decried the failure of every city in the hemisphere — other than Miami — to control mosquitoes.
Most praised the W.H.O. for declaring an emergency on Feb. 1, but also condemned as premature its decision to end it on Nov. 18.
But the greatest failure, all agreed, was that while tourists were warned away from epidemic areas, tens of millions of women living in them — many of them poor slum dwellers — were left unprotected.
As a result, a wave of brain-damaged babies is now being born. Their families are already suffering, and their medical care will eventually cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The failure to advise women to postpone pregnancy, if they could, until the epidemic passed “was the single greatest travesty of the epidemic,” said Amir Attaran, a professor of law and medicine at the University of Ottawa.
It was “hideously racist hypocrisy,” he added. “Female American tourists were given the best and safest public health advice, while brown Puerto Rican inhabitants were told something else entirely.”
Politics Got in the Way
Impoverished Latin American and Caribbean women were badly served in many ways, other experts said.
Trucks sprayed pesticides that often did not work. Admonitions from on high to wear repellent and long sleeves were given with no studies proving that they could protect indefinitely.
And health authorities, fearful of offending religious conservatives, never seriously discussed abortion as an alternative to having permanently deformed babies — even in countries where abortion is legal.
That reluctance created an unusual gulf between official advice and actual practice. Many gynecologists interviewed said privately that they offered abortions to patients whose ultrasound scans showed abnormally small heads or brain damage.
But they did so without official support or guidance from the W.H.O. or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.