Rising vector-borne diseases result from Venezuela’s ongoing crisis

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Vector-borne diseases including malaria, Chagas disease, dengue, and Zika virus, are on the rise and transmitting to new locations as a result of Venezuela’s declining healthcare infrastructure. These conclusions come from collaborative work published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, which has extensively reviewed and evaluated the impact of the continuing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

This report is a first in gathering such an abundance of data surrounding the impact of Venezuela’s crisis on vector-borne disease and has unveiled worrying figures. The report suggests the crisis has seen a fall in the surveillance systems, preventative measures and healthcare programs that have underpinned the public health improvements seen over the last 20 years in Venezuela.

Analyses estimated a rise of 359% in malaria cases between 2010 and 2015 and a subsequent 71% increase between 2016 and 2017, resulting from a lack of medicines and decreasing mosquito-control activities. Alarmingly, increasing malaria cases have also been reported in new locations with disease spreading across Venezuela, once certified by the WHO as the first country to eradicate malaria. [usepro_private]

“As well as the return of measles and other vaccine-preventable infectious diseases, the continued upsurge in malaria could soon become uncontrollable. The stark reality is that in the absence of surveillance, diagnostic and preventive measures, these figures most likely represent an underestimate of the true situation,” commented lead researcher, Martin Llewellyn (University of Glasgow, UK).

The review also found similarly worrying figures for Chagas disease, with its transmission being the highest recorded for over 20 years, and dengue, with a five-fold increase in cases seen from 2010– 2016. Chikungunya and Zika frequencies were also increasing at an accelerated rate according to the report. Fears of disease spreading across borders to neighboring countries is growing, with an average of 5500 people leaving the country every day in 2018 [1].

Solutions through improved preventative, surveillance and monitoring measures will be needed to halt the rise in these vector-borne diseases. The authors highlighted the major challenges in reaching those most vulnerable to infection across Venezuela, but also emphasized the importance in informing those communities of the growing threat. Additionally, the authors state the Venezuelan and regional authorities need to understand of the scale of growing crisis in order to accept international medical interventions.

To achieve success in controlling the emerging health crisis, collaboration will be needed from a huge range of contributors including national and international political bodies. The authors urge regional healthcare authorities to recognize and act on a public health emergency of hemispheric concern.

“We call on the members of the Organization of American States and other international political bodies to apply more pressure to the Venezuelan government to accept the humanitarian assistance offered by the international community in order to strengthen the buckling health system. Without such efforts, the public health gains achieved over the past 18 years could soon be reversed,” concluded Llewellyn.

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Source: Grillet ME, Hernández-Villen JV, Llewellyn MS et al. Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, resurgence of vector-borne diseases, and implications for spillover in the region. Lancet Infect. Dis. doi:0.1016/S1473-3099(18)30757-6 (2019). [/usepro_private]

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