WASHINGTON: As the World Health Organisation declared the Zika epidemic a global health emergency, a group of physicians urged Pakistan on Tuesday to take all possible measures to prevent its spread in the country.

“It is not if but when this devastating virus will show its ugly face in Pakistan,” warned Dr Mohammad Khalid, who heads the Washington chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. The group, which has won the Nobel Prize for its efforts to promote peace, also works to help raise global awareness on such issues.

“We have already experienced the devastating effects of dengue in Pakistan. And the mosquito that carries the dengue also carries this virus,” Dr. Khalid added.

Zika virus is transmitted by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes that carry viruses for dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever and yellow fever.

Meanwhile, the WHO announced that its 18 experts and advisers, who met in Geneva on Monday, agreed that “the situation meets the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”

They experts cited “the lack of vaccines and rapid and reliable diagnostic tests, and the absence of population immunity in newly-affected countries as further causes for concern.”

“This shows the seriousness of this threat,” said Dr Khalid, adding that Zika entered Brazil only a year ago and within a year it affected 4,200 pregnant women.

In adults, the virus triggers a mild illness but causes permanent brain damage to babies still in their mothers’ wombs. Brazil is now advising women to consider postponing pregnancies because of this threat.

Dr Khalid said he was not trying to create a panic in Pakistan but was emphasising the need to conduct a mass educational campaign.

“We need to prepare our people to fight this untreatable disease,” he said. “Remember, a vaccine takes years to develop but prevention works rapidly.”

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2016

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