The recent emergence and rapid spread of the Zika virus presents a grave, new challenge for health systems and practitioners across the Zika-affected regions, as they work to address the unique health needs and concerns of individuals and families affected by the epidemic.
Zika is spread primarily through the Aedes mosquito – the same species of mosquito that spreads dengue and chikungunya – but the virus can also be transmitted via sexual contact. Common symptoms of Zika for an otherwise healthy adult include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache, lasting up to a week.
However, most concerning for health workers is that Zika is passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus during pregnancy. While the symptoms for an adult are mild, Zika infection during pregnancy can have grave consequences for the growing fetus. Zika infection during pregnancy has been linked to an increase in birth defects across the Zika-affected regions, particularly a serious birth defect called microcephaly, which results in unusually small heads and brain damage in newborns.
As part of the Zika virus epidemic emergency response, ASSIST is providing intensive assistance to the Ministry of Health in five countries – the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Activities supported include: conducting a baseline assessment of the quality of Zika-related care, revising Zika-related clinical guidelines, training health care providers on counseling skills, improving Zika-related clinical processes, conducting face-to-face and virtual courses on Zika-related health care, implementing a Zika quality improvement program, and cultivating a Zika community of practice to rapidly scale up learning across all affected countries.
In addition to the resources provided here, ASSIST maintains a website in Spanish with exclusively Zika-related content: www.maternoinfantil.org/zika.