Tasha Stehling-Ariza, PhD, MPH
, an epidemiologist in Panama collaborating with UNICEF during the Zika Outbreak in Latin America and the Caribbean, told the audience that Brazil reported its first lab-confirmed case of Zika virus infection in May 2015. By the end of January, 26 countries and territories had reported lab-confirmed Zika virus cases, and Brazil estimated that it had between a 0.5 and 1.5 million cases. In January, UNICEF asked the CDC for help.
"Working closely with other organizations such as UNICEF not only helps them; it also allows us to build on their strengths for more effective response and to better accomplish our mission," Dr. Stehling-Ariza said in her talk.
The CDC is very good at developing clear materials with the key messages, she said, and UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of children in the community. UNICEF performs vector control, encourages people to wear long sleeves and use insect repellant, and the agency cares for and supports infants and families affected by Zika. UNICEF estimates that it reaches 200 million people in the region; by partnering with UNICEF, the CDC can reach more people.
Dr. Stehling-Ariza oversaw messaging, guidance and collaboration, and she was responsible for preparedness, behavior change, communication, vector management, information systems, technical support and helping coordinate the CDC, UNICEF and other partners. Collaborators created a simple document explaining in plain local language what local workers without a medical background needed to know.
The CDC developed Zika prevention kits
— containing a bed net, standing water treatment tablets, insect repellant, permethrin spray and condoms — that are being distributed to pregnant women in the US territories; and the CDC, UNICEF and other partners are planning similar kits for other countries.
About 40 countries and territories in the Americas have reported Zika transmission so far and the number is growing. Challenges include a limited understanding of the Zika virus and its complications and keeping up with the rapidly evolving science.
"We should continue the joint projects and activities with UNICEF," Dr. Stehling-Ariza advised.