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Brazil is ‘badly losing’ the battle against Zika virus, says health minister

Nearly 220,000 troops to be deployed to eradicate mosquitoes and prices rises as insect repellent in short supply at pharmacies

Brazils health minister was warned that the country is badly losing the battle against the mosquito blamed for spreading Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects.

Marcelo Castro said that nearly 220,000 members of Brazils armed forces would go door-to-door to help in mosquito eradication efforts, according to Rio de Janeiros O Globo newspaper. It also quoted Castro as saying the government would distribute mosquito repellent to some 400,000 pregnant women who receive cash-transfer benefits.

But all major Brazilian dailies quoted Castro as saying the country is badly losing the battle against the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.

The mosquito has been here in Brazil for three decades, and we are badly losing the battle against the mosquito, the Folha de S Paulo newspaper quoted him as saying as a crisis group on Zika was meeting in the capital, Braslia.

Emails to Castros office for comment were not immediately answered.

A huge eradication effort eliminated Aedes aegypti from Brazil during the 1950s, but the mosquito slowly returned over the following decades from neighbouring countries, public health experts have said. That led to outbreaks of dengue, which was recorded in record numbers last year.

The arrival of Zika in Brazil last year initially caused little alarm, as the viruss symptoms are generally much milder than those of dengue. It didnt become a crisis until late in the year, when researchers made the link with a dramatic increase in reported cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect that sees babies born with unusually small heads and can cause lasting developmental problems.

Worry about the rapid spread of Zika has expanded across the nation, and the hemisphere beyond. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to reconsider travel to Brazil and 21 other countries and territories with Zika outbreaks.

Officials in El Salvador, Colombia and Brazil have suggested women stop getting pregnant until the crisis has passed.

Repellent has disappeared from many Brazilian pharmacies and prices for the product have tripled or even quadrupled where it is still available in recent weeks since the government announced a suspected link between Zika virus and microcephaly.

Nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported since October, compared with fewer than 150 cases in the country in all of 2014.

Castros remarks have proven controversial, both in and outside Brazil.

A World Health Organisation spokesman, Christian Lindmeier, said he had not seen the remarks, but in general terms I think that this would be a bit of a fatalistic approach because this should mean we could lay down all our approaches now and declare the war lost.

I dont think this is the case, he added at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

In Brazil, some called for Castro to be fired.

He is incapable of occupying his position, wrote Hlio Gurovitz, a columnist with G1, the internet portal of the Globo television network. To prove that Castro doesnt have the capacity to occupy such an important position, at such a delicate moment with the spread of the epidemic, all thats needed is a selection of such comments.

Both Brazils Zika outbreak and the spike in microcephaly have been concentrated in the poor and underdeveloped north-east of the country, though the prosperous south-east, where So Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are located, are the second hardest-hit region. Rio de Janeiro will host the Olympic Games between 5 and 21 August.

On Tuesday, officials in Rio also ramped up their fight against the Aedes aegypti, dispatching a team of fumigators to the Sambadrome, where the citys Carnival parades will take place next month. Governor Luiz Fernando Pezo was to be on hand for a ceremonial handover of about 30 vehicles to help poor Rio suburbs fight the spread of the mosquito, his team said.

Officials have also pledged to redouble mosquito eradication efforts during the Olympics.

Officials in another hard-hit South American country, Colombia, also ramped up efforts against Zika on Tuesday.

The health minister, Alejandro Gaviria, visited the city of Ibagu, a hotbed of Zika, to start a Tour of Colombia campaign to educate local officials on how to fight the mosquitoes. Colombian officials say they have recorded more than 13,500 suspected cases and President Juan Manuel Santos said there could be 600,000 cases by years end.

The WHOs Lindmeier said on Tuesday that the organisation suspects a link between Zika and microcephaly, but cautioned that the evidence is circumstantial.

He said the UN agency plans a special session on the virus during a Geneva meeting of its executive board on Thursday.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/26/brazil-zika-virus-health-minister-armed-forces-eradication