Zika

The outbreak of the Zika virus across Latin America and the Pacific, and the alarming and tragic impact of the disease, captured the world’s attention. At URC, our decades of work in global health security and the control and mitigation of infectious disease outbreaks have prepared us to address the Zika challenge head-on.

From preventing new infections through effective social and behavior change communication, to collecting and analyzing data to tailor contextually-specific solutions, to strengthening the health services that will manage the new infections, URC brings over 50 years of experience to combat this emergent health threat.

 


A family from the municipality of Palín in Escuintla, Guatemala whose daughter Dulce was born with congenital Zika syndrome with microcephaly. Credit: Amalia Lima, Director of Health Center in Palín.

URC experience highlight: USAID ASSIST Project in Latin America and the Caribbean

In September 2017, URC was awarded a two-year extension to the USAID ASSIST Project. As part of the Zika virus epidemic emergency response, URC, through USAID ASSIST, focused on strengthening maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) and family planning/reproductive health services in the following Zika-affected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Specifically, URC provided intensive assistance to the Ministry of Health in five countries – the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Activities supported include: conducting a baseline assessment of the quality of Zika-related care, revising Zika-related clinical guidelines, training health care providers on counseling skills, improving Zika-related clinical processes, conducting face-to-face and virtual courses on Zika-related health care, implementing a Zika quality improvement program, and cultivating a Zika community of practice to rapidly scale up learning across all affected countries.

 


Félicité Tchimou, a member of the Logobo women's group in Ghana, teaches women in the group about Ebola prevention.

URC experience highlight: Fighting Ebola in Ghana

Similar to the rapid emergence of Zika in Latin America and the Caribbean, the emergence of Ebola in Ghana in March of 2014 required a quick change of focus for the government, USAID, and the USAID funded the Systems for Health project that URC was leading in Ghana. URC quickly adapted its original health care quality improvement plans to include a three-pronged approach the preparing Ghana to fight this new threat.

First, we helped ensure an effective policy environment was in place by working with the Ghanaian government to update their National Policy and Guidelines for Infection Prevention and Control in Healthcare Settings to include the most current information on hemorrhagic fevers, and in particular Ebola and cholera preparedness.

Next, we designed an 18 module competency-based training for health care workers. Our training is completed on-site at hospitals across the country, at the national, regional, and district levels. We provide infection prevention and control skills for every level of worker at the hospital - from managers, to doctors, to janitors - to ensure that each worker understands their role in preventing the spread of the disease.

Finally, we launched a behavior change communication campaign to help the public understand how to protect themselves. In addition to traditional BCC activities like radio ads, we convened a meeting of religious leaders and representatives of faith-based groups from across the country. These leaders  issued an edict, to be read at religious gatherings, mosques and churches, which put their combined authority and significant social influence behind “bringing out the facts and truth about the disease, and promoting solidarity, social cohesion, compassion and humanity,” according to Ghana Health Service's Dr. Badu Sarkodie, Director of Public Health.

 

Applying what we know: Zika and beyond

URC’s approach to improving health outcomes, regardless of disease, strengthens the performance and interconnectedness of the six health system building blocks identified by the World Health Organization: service delivery, health workforce, strategic information, commodities, health financing, and leadership and governance. While the threat of Ebola has quieted, the strengthened systems put in place in response to the epidemic leave Ghana well-positioned to address the whatever new threats emerge in the future.