2 February 2016 – With the Zika virus now a public health emergency affecting more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Unicef is working with governments to mobilize communities to protect themselves from infection.

“Although there is still no conclusive evidence of the causal link between microcephaly and the Zika virus, there is enough concern to warrant immediate action,” said Dr. Heather Papowitz, Unicef’s Senior Advisor for Health Emergencies. “We need to act fast to provide women and pregnant mothers with the information they need to protect themselves and their babies, and we need to engage with communities on how to stop the mosquito that is carrying and transmitting this virus.” 

Registered cases of microcephaly in newborn babies in Brazil have soared to 4,180 between 22 October 2015 and 26 January 2016. In 2014, there were 147 cases across the whole country. Working with the government and other partners,Unicef is engaging communities in Brazil with messages on how to avoid mosquito bites and eliminate breeding sites.

With the virus spreading far and fast, simple measures that can help keep people safe include using insect repellent, covering as much of the body as possible with long, light-coloured clothing, removing places where mosquitoes can breed, and putting screens on windows and doors. Pregnant women who think they have been exposed to the virus should seek care by a trained health provider.

While the surge in microcephaly has so far only been reported in Brazil, Unicef is also scaling up its support to other countries in the region and stands ready to support national governments as needed – using its network of 24 offices serving 35 countries and territories.

Unicef is launching a nearly $9 million appeal for its programmes to limit the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact on newborns and their families across the region. 

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Notes for editors:

For further information please contact the Unicef UK Press Office on +44 (0)20 7375 6030 or media@unicef.org.uk 

About Unicef
Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk