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© 2020 by Phoebe Fleming.

BRAZIL: Zika Não

Since the World Health Organisation declared Zika a global health emergency on 1st February 2016, international interest in the worst affected area in the World; Paraíba, North East Brazil, peaked. The foremost cause for concern was the unprecedented rise in reports of microcephaly, a condition present at birth defined by the head having a smaller circumference than normal, frequently resulting in intellectual disabilities. 

In July 2016 Phoebe joined the Cruz Vermelha Brasileira (Red Cross Brazil) and the Caravana Do Coração (Heart Caravan) on a trip around Paraíba as they travelled to 14 towns to provide healthcare to residents and to conduct the largest sample of clinical laboratory data taken to date, to further the understanding of the Zika virus.

The Caravana Do Coração model was founded by Cardiologist Dr. Sandra Mattos to detect and monitor congenital cardiac abnormalities in North East Brazil. The effectiveness of her model was emphasised by patients who had previously been diagnosed with a heart condition returning in good health the following year, having had operations as a result of  the Caravan’s assessment and intervention. Due to the spike in suspected Zika cases in 2016, the Caravan model was adapted to put emphasis on identification, education and alleviation of the effects of Zika, and while the cardiology assessments continued, approximately 300 pregnant women were also screened for ZIKV (ZIKA) infection and over 60 children with confirmed microcephaly were evaluated. 


As of yet there is no vaccine or cure for Zika and as the rush of funding begins to slow Mattos and her team are left wondering what will happen to the families affected. While the Caravan’s collection of samples made steps to strengthen the body of research that is accumulating regarding Zika and microcephaly, findings are still far from conclusive, and Brazil may soon be left to deal with the consequences of the disease with dwindling international support.


All images © Phoebe Fleming