Zika virus… condemns Govt’s nonchalant response to threatZika is not just another mosquito-borne disease but Government surely is treating it as one, according to former Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy.Former Health Minister, Dr Leslie RamsammyIts nonchalant approach is evident in its lackluster educational awareness campaign, inability to utilise available resources, and slothfulness in the formulation of key policies to control the spread of the infection.Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton recently disclosed that there are 35 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Guyana, a significant leap from the initial seven confirmed cases.Ramsammy indicated that this drastic increase in the number of affected persons can be attributed to Government’s poor response to the threat when it first hit the shores of Guyana.With the threat becoming greater, the former Health Minister is urging once again that Government snap into action before an epidemic breaks loose.“Every day, we are learning more and more frightening facts about Zika. This is not the time for Guyana to wait for an epidemic to hit us before we act. As a Minister of Health, I always responded as if there is a worst case scenario.While sometimes people were critical of the way I responded to threats, I believed that prevention is better than cure. The Ministry of Public Health is not serving the interest of the people of Guyana when it comes to Zika,” Ramsammy stated in a statement to the media.He went on to express utter disappointment in Government’s timid response.“It is not in keeping with the seriousness of the threat that Zika poses,” he underscored.According to Ramsammy, the Zika education and awareness programme from the Public Health Ministry is “at best anemic”. “It is virtually non-existent in Guyana. An announcement here and there and an occasional statement do not represent a robust education and awareness programme,” he commented.He noted that while the Pan-American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) has a good educational programme, the Public Health Ministry must get its act together if it intends on avoiding another health catastrophe in the country.Ramsammy lamented too that the Ministry has not developed a robust testing capacity for Zika. “I suspect that many cases of Zika are not diagnosed and reported,” he stated. Indeed, reports indicate that many people who exhibit symptoms of Zika are unaware if they are infected. Authorities had indicated that they simply use medication to treat the symptoms.Ramsammy said there is a lot of resource available from PAHO/WHO as well as CARPHA (the Caribbean Public Health Agency), and Government needs to make greater use through these agencies.He noted also that the off and on vector control response is a major disappointment. “We need an aggressive vector control programme to fight against Zika, malaria, chikungunya, engue and filariasis. The time has now come for a national bednet programme to protect pregnant women and children. I had introduced this programme, but evidence is that it is now at a standstill,” he observed.Moreover, he is urging the Ministry include Zika screening as part of the blood safety protocols for the National Blood Transfusion Service in Guyana.He also urged that Zika be recognised as a formal part of the Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) programme in Guyana.There is now ample evidence that Zika is also a STI, transmitted from one person to the next through sexual intercourse, and there is further evidence that Zika can be transmitted via blood transfusion.Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects, such as microcephaly, and is associated with other pregnancy problems.Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.Zika virus infection during pregnancy can also lead to other severe foetal brain defects and has been linked to problems in infants, including eye defects, hearing loss, and impaired growth. Scientists are studying the full range of other potential health problems that Zika virus infection during pregnancy may cause.Several countries that have experienced Zika outbreaks recently have reported increases in people who have Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). GBS is an uncommon sickness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, and sometimes, paralysis. Additionally, increasing evidence is being accumulated showing an association between Zika and neurological problems in both men and women and children infected with Zika.