EDITORIAL - Philippines must be prepared for Zika

(The Freeman) - February 1, 2016 - 9:00am

CEBU, Philippines - The World Health Organization has described the Zika virus as "spreading explosively" across Central and South America. Just because the disease caused by the virus, which causes serious birth defects in babies, is largely confined to Latin America for now does not mean the Philippines should not start taking measures to be prepared for the eventuality of it spreading to our shores.

The fact that there are Filipinos in virtually every country in the world, including in Latin America, cannot be overemphasized. Aside from Filipinos, of which there are thousands in these contaminated areas, travel by citizens of these countries to Asia and to the Philippines should be a major cause for concern. With global travel now reduced to a matter of hours, potential exposure could be staring us in the face even at this very moment.

It does not help to simply assuage concerns by saying the Philippines remains Zika-free as of the moment. The country has actually been previously exposed to the virus. Making it more alarming is the fact that such exposure happened right here in Cebu City in 2012, when a 15-year-old boy came down with the virus.

He may have recovered fully in a matter of weeks. And he may be lucky that he was a boy and will not be giving birth. But that does not mean we let our guards down.

Besides, it is not clear if males who have been afflicted are able to pass on the virus to others, especially females. This is where education is vital. All that is known by the public at this moment is that the disease has no cure and that it only causes birth defects in babies. Aside from that, not much is known about the virus, especially to ordinary folks.

It is therefore good that the president has ordered the Department of Health to promptly step into the picture to fill in the gaps of information. The fact that the virus causes birth defects is very significant to a country like the Philippines where the birth rate is very high. A very high birth rate means there are so many babies being made and born in the Philippines, babies that can only give the virus the widest possible field of target.

The Philippine government must prepare for the Zika virus with the same seriousness it has shown with previous other health concerns that have threatened the country. There must be heightened alert at airports and other points of entry to monitor people exhibiting symptoms of the disease. Places of treatment, like special hospitals must be identified and prepared.

The country is facing so many threats from a variety of sources that it cannot afford to be apathetic. It cannot be caught napping. The country does not have the luxury and the capacity to combat full-blown disease outbreaks. Its best chance of getting through medical and health challenges is simply to be prepared in order to deal with any problem in its infancy.

 

BABIES BIRTH CEBU CITY CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA COUNTRY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH LATIN AMERICA PHILIPPINES VIRUS WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION ZIKA
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