Ministry of Health officials from Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines brainstorm how to integrate the ZiCaMas tool into their sustainability plans. Photo credit: URC

Representatives from USAID-funded projects, Ministries of Health, UNICEF, PAHO, Save the Children, and NGOs from 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries gathered in Panama City April 24-26 for the USAID Care and Support for Infants, Mothers, and Families affected by Zika Conference. At the ASSIST Project-coordinated event, attendees shared lessons learned and recommendations for future emergency epidemics, with a focus on best practices for screening and identifying infants affected by congenital Zika syndrome and linking them to health services.

Dr. Shivon Belle-Jarvis, a pediatrician at the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Health, gave a dynamic presentation on the Antiguan experience with improving the quality of care for Zika affected children and families. She highlighted the rollout of a new software program specifically created for surveillance and better care and support of babies and families potentially affected by Zika. This Zika case management tool – or ZiCaMas – developed by the ASSIST Project with funding from USAID, enables health care providers to identify and better track babies and their families so they receive timely clinical and non-clinical care. The software has been launched and its early benefits noted in Antigua and Barbuda.

“This software is awesome because it allows us to not only look at the mothers but also the children, and it allows us to monitor the quality of care that is offered, not only in the hospital but also in any health care facility nationwide, whether private or public,” Dr. Shivon Belle-Javis highlighted in a local newspaper article.

The ZiCaMas tool is also being used in Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, which are all receiving short-term technical assistance from the ASSIST Project. The tool was co-developed with substantial input from health care providers and Ministry of Health officials from all involved countries and the American Academy of Pediatrics. It has the potential to be used regionally to generate comparable data and inform case management and surveillance of Zika and similar conditions resulting in neurodevelopmental disabilities.

While there is reason for celebration that Zika has waned Latin America and the Caribbean since the 2016 peak, scientists feel certain the disease will be back. Previous outbreaks of viruses from the same genetic family as Zika, such as Chikungunya, have followed a similar pattern.

The ZiCaMas tool will help build capacity and prepare countries so they are better equipped for the monitoring, detection, and care essential to containing and treating similar public health emergencies.

“We know that these children will get older, but are we as a nation prepared to deal with the children and their families?” … With ZiCaMas software, “we can know not only how to respond to Zika but other epidemics that may arise in the future,” says Dr. Belle-Javis.