After the detection of one case of the Zika virus in South Africa last week the Ministry of Health has scaled up defense mechanisms and alertness to vigilantly guard the country against the disease. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health (MoH) Shenaaz El Halabi has urged Batswana not to panic. “It is not like the Zika virus is new. It has always been there and it goes way back to the 1940s” she said. The first case of the Zika Virus was in Uganda, and that is why in Uganda there is a city called Ziika because that was where the outbreak of the disease was first registered and a research unit had to be set there. She emphasised that they don’t want to create anxiety but rather to raise awareness.
She said that after the South African case, an emergency meeting was held in order to map the way forward. She said they have been working on the preparedness plan and they have already had meetings with districts to prepare them. “The SA case is a very important and we already have systems in place to monitor our local responses,” she said. They are working with World Health Organisation (WHO), Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the national epidemic team. Other institutions that have been brought on board are Red Cross, U-Penn, armed forces, immigration, BNSC and BNOC especially that most of the local athletes will be travelling abroad this year. She said there is need to be vigilant as much as possible.
The MoH Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) team is already at work to make sure that measures are put in place. Public health specialist Nesredin Jami said that Zika virus is caused by Aedes mosquito species, which is not popular in Botswana since Botswana does not have a rainforest. The MOH believes that with the rate of global warming anything can happen and that is why the need for vigilance. “People do not get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they also rarely die,” he said. Children that are born to the parents with the disease are the ones that are mostly at risk because the children come with a small or irregular head as compared to the typical normal size, they lose intelligence and have uncontrolled muscle movements.
At the moment there is no vaccine, no treatment but only medication to treat symptoms and vector control is the main prevention. WHO representative Kentse Moakofhi said there is enhancement of surveillance by WHO and a lot of partners have been brought on board. She said travel restrictions have not yet been put in place but everyone should see a doctor before going to an affected country.