WASHINGTON, March 22, 2016 —
U.S. Southern Command is just part of the “whole-of-hemisphere” approach to combating the Zika virus, the Southcom commander said today at a Council of the Americas forum on Zika and the Americas.
Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd stressed the command is supporting other U.S. agencies in the fight against the disease.
“Our Department of Defense, including U.S. Southcom, along with Health and Human Services, U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department and others are part of a whole-of-government — indeed a whole-of-hemisphere — effort to confront and contain this threat,” he said.
Major Health Crisis
The Zika epidemic has turned into a “major health care crisis in our shared American home,” he said.
The virus is carried by mosquitoes and is suspected as the cause of microcephaly in infants. More than 6,000 babies have been born with microcephaly since Zika arrived in Brazil, Tidd said.
The virus may also play a role in triggering Guillain-Barre Syndrome — an uncommon sickness of the nervous system.
And the nature of the disease is it will not stay in one spot for long. The virus began in Africa and has now created the crisis in Central and South America. There have been cases in the United States.
In the world today, Tidd said, a regional crisis will quickly morph into a transregional crisis. “There is no such thing any longer, as a purely regional crisis,” the admiral said. “If it touches one part of the Americas, it touches us all.”
Tidd spoke about the security challenges the virus poses. “There is no way to predict when or where health threats will emerge,” he said. “We can still be out-maneuvered by a simple virus with the ability to adapt to a changing environment.”
Brazil is the most affected country right now, but it may be just the first of many that have to confront this public health emergency, Tidd said. “With so many unanswered questions, and with summer right around the corner, and with the hot, rainy, mosquito-producing months that come with it, citizens and their leaders across the Caribbean and the Americas are rightly worried,” he said.
The nations of the hemisphere are responding. A team from the Centers of Disease Control visited Brazil to investigate connections between the virus and birth defects. “Our government is working aggressively to combat the Zika virus and has requested more than $1.9 billion in emergency funding to enhance our on-going efforts to prepare for and respond to it,” Tidd said. “If approved, these additional resources will help build on the U.S. government’s preparedness efforts and will support essential strategies to combat this virus.”
These strategies including mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research and diagnostic development, enabling the testing and development of vaccines and educating health care providers, pregnant women and their partners on the dangers of the disease. The money will also improve health care capacity, especially to low-income families.
Southern Command will support the Department of Health and Human Services experts who are leading the counter-Zika campaign, the admiral said. “We stand ready to lend our unique capabilities to support the broader Zika response and preparedness campaign,” he said. “Our efforts are part of a coordinated whole-of-government approach to halt the spread of the Zika virus regionally and globally.”
Southcom personnel in Honduras, Peru and around the region are working with local and international groups to further research, discuss mosquito eradication efforts, and halt transmission.
“Working with our partners to improve access to health systems are inherent parts of the U.S. government’s effort to promote a peaceful, prosperous, secure and resilient Western Hemisphere,” Tidd said.