- Led by H.E. Mrs. Toyin Saraki, the Wellbeing Foundation Africa is creating awareness of the Zika virus – a mosquito-borne illness with dire effects on pregnancy and newborns – that is currently rampaging South America.
Raising awareness on the highly probable effects of Zika virus on pregnancy and birth outcomes on social media, the #MaternalMondayCampaign of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA) today shared that the disease has been linked to neurological problems and an increase in microcephaly, a rare birth defect in which infants are born with unusually small heads, resulting in under-developed brains in newborns. Alarmingly, microcephaly can also lead to eventual learning and motor difficulties – and possibly death.
Caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, the Zika virus is also known to be transmitted from a mother to her baby during pregnancy. Currently having no specific treatment or preventive vaccinations, WBFA’s #MaternalMonday Campaign has also recommended that preventive personal measures such as avoiding mosquito bites, and using mosquito repellents and insecticide-treated mosquito nets can offer a degree of protection against the disease.
According to medical professionals, the Zika virus has an incubation period of about 3 to 12 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. Apart from pregnant women and their babies, Zika virus can affect anyone who lives or travels to any area where the virus is found. The virus is usually asymptomatic in roughly 80% of individuals who have been infected, and its symptoms typically include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain and headache.
Identified first in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys, Zika virus transmission is currently ongoing in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Venezuela. To prevent further transmission, many affected countries have advised women to delay becoming pregnant until more is discovered about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy. In addition, to curtail transmission, travel alerts have been issued for pregnant women in any trimester, and women trying to become pregnant, who might be planning to travel to affected regions.
Prior to 2015, Zika virus outbreaks have occurred in areas such as Africa, South-east Asia, and the Pacific Islands. In the 1970’s, a study conducted by A.H Fagbami at the University of Ibadan showed that 40% of Nigerians had Zika virus neutralizing antibodies, giving them a level of immunity against the virus. Although there is currently no outbreak of Zika virus in Nigeria, recent reports have shown a steady increase in cases of fetal microcephaly related to Zika virus infection in pregnant women in Brazil.
The rapid increase in the spread of the Zika virus has become a growing cause for concern, with healthcare professionals and expectant mothers urged to take precautionary measures including avoiding stagnant bodies of water, gutters and night biting mosquitoes. Through the #MaternalMonday Campaign, which was conceived in 2013 as a broad space for mothers, campaigners, and health workers to receive health information and share insights, the Wellbeing Foundation Africa encourages those at risk to take active steps to prevent and eliminate the spread of the virus, in order to avert life-long health issues and challenges for mothers and their newborns.