The Soldiers will work on the streets alongside 300,000 civilian government employees. “The number of Ground Force service members being deployed is already robust, with the maximum number of service members available,” the Brazilian Army Social Communications Center (CECOMSEx) told Diálogo .
The Military launched this campaign to combat mosquitoes at the beginning of December 2015, but the government decided to intensify the initiative because of the severity of the threat posed by Zika and dengue. On February 1st, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a condition linked to Zika a global health emergency. In 2015, Brazil recorded a record number of 1.6 million cases of dengue and 863 dengue-related deaths, according to the Ministry of Health.
“Right now, Soldiers are being trained on base to combat mosquitoes on the streets in the coming weeks,” said Major Carlos Morgero, Social Communications Officer at the Planalto Military Command (CMP, for its Portuguese acronym), which includes the Federal District, Tocantins, Triângulo Mineiro and Goiás – the Brazilian state with the highest rates of dengue.
Brazilian Troops will fight the advance of the Zika virus, which health authorities have tied to more than 3,400 suspected cases of microcephaly – a congenital malformation where a child is born with a smaller head and brain than normal. On January 27th, health authorities confirmed that 270 babies were born with microcephaly in the country, caused by a congenital infection, but not necessarily the Zika virus.
“Support from the Brazilian Armed Forces is very important in combating Aedes aegypti ”, said Dr. José Moya, a physician consulting on infectious diseases at the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) in Argentina. “Service members can provide trucks for transportation and equipment that will help in rapid removal of plastic bottles, tires, and other items where water accumulates and where mosquitoes breed.”
PAHO recommends an intersectoral effort to eliminate larvae, which requires a cooperative effort involving the Armed Forces and other government authorities. “Depending on their own needs, countries can call upon their Armed Forces and police for these efforts, as we see in Brazil, where they have events like Carnaval and the Olympics on the horizon.”
Four stage campaign
The Ministry of Defense is dividing its Military actions against Aedes aegypti into four stages. First, from January 29th to February 4th, Soldiers are performing a Cleaning Patrol to eliminate mosquito larvae at Armed Forces facilities across the country.
The Armed Forces will initiate the second phase, known as National Cleanup Day, on February 13th. On that day, 220,000 service members will visit 3 million homes to raise resident awareness in the 356 municipalities that have the highest concentrations of mosquitoes.
“We will distribute an information pamphlet calling upon residents to participate in fighting the mosquito problem,” said Admiral Ademir Sobrinho, the chairman of the Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to Agência Brasil .
In the third stage, which will be coordinated with the Ministry of Health and take place from February 15th to 19th, 50,000 service members will inspect homes and apply larvicides where necessary. These service members will be called Eradication Patrol for Mosquito Breeding Points and Decontamination. “During this action, the Army will support the federal, state and municipal authorities,” the CECOMSEx informed.
In the last stage, on a date yet to be determined, service members will launch an information campaign in public and private schools. “The Army will disseminate information about how serious the problem is, about mosquito-borne illnesses, and the great responsibility each Brazilian has in this ‘war,’ and the procedures they must adopt,” according to the CECOMSEx.
Key role of the Armed Forces
State Departments of Health have traditionally requested assistance from the Brazilian Army to combat Aedes aegypti . From April to June 2015, for example, 100 CMP service members in Brasília visited homes and instructed residents on the street about dengue and chikungunya.
“This assistance led to a reduction in rates [of disease] in the Federal District, which is the opposite of what happened in most Brazilian states,” Maj. Morgero said. The Federal District recorded 9,654 confirmed cases of dengue from January and July 22, 2015, a decrease of 38.79% compared to the same period in 2014 (15,773 cases), according to an epidemiological report issued by the Federal District Department of Health.
In December 2015, as Zika began to spread, health authorities in the Federal District submitted an advance request for assistance to the Army. “Then we were supporting efforts to combat mosquitoes with nearly 1,000 service members, with a focus also on the Zika virus,” said Maj. Morgero. “Now, the number to be mobilized will increase with each of the four stages in the federal action plan.”
The Armed Forces are essential to combating the Aedes aegypti mosquito, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff stated. “The participation of the Armed Forces is central to this campaign,” the president said during a visit to the Marine Corps Group in Brasília on January 29th, the first day of the on-base cleaning patrols. “The ability to mobilize, remain disciplined, and raise awareness among service members will be critical to the success of this campaign.”
The goal is to expand the training on mosquitoes from Soldiers to all residents, President Rousseff added. “The populace will listen to and comply with [this action] because the Armed Forces are one of the most highly-respected institutions in Brazil, if not the most highly respected one,” she said. “We are going to show that the Brazilian people are able to win this war.”
Prevention and symptoms
Since Zika, dengue, and chikungunya are transmitted by the same mosquito, prevention is similar. “It is imperative to continually check windows, glasses, yards, patios, pools, and other places where rainwater is liable to accumulate,” said Dr. Moya. “This is work that every resident must do, in coordination with the authorities.”
The three diseases also have similar symptoms: fever, malaise, joint and muscle pain, rashes on the skin, reddened eyes, and pain behind the eyes. “Light and moderate cases of the diseases are often confused, but it is important for people to go to a health center if these symptoms appear,” the specialist said. “There, people will be able to receive treatment and medical professionals can perform laboratory tests to confirm or rule out the illness.”
Medical authorities are studying a potential dengue vaccine, which has not yet been approved by the WHO, according to Dr. Moya. In addition to the Zika virus’ alleged links to cases of microcephaly, health authorities are worried about its probable relationship to autoimmune and neurological disorders, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the immune system attacks the nervous system. The ensuing damage to the nerves compromises the patient’s movements and breathing.
For more information on how to combat Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Brazil, please visit http://combateaedes.saude.gov.br .