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Lack of funding for public services plays a vital role in Zika epidemic

03 February 2016
Photo: Aedes mosquito - Marcos Teixeira de Freitas/CC
This crisis demonstrates once more that underfunding and massive privatization of public health services have led to an absence of preventative measures to contagious diseases - which combined with the effects of climate change produces the perfect environment for their proliferation.

Following the declaration of a global public health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) due to the Zika virus epidemic, Public Services International (PSI) raises significant questions such as why these outbreaks are occurring and why it is taking so long to respond to these outbreaks.

PSI believes that the answer to such threats is to invest in public services and improve the working conditions of public sector workers.

“It is only through a complete and appropriate government response that we can hope to confront such crises. This cannot be left to individual citizens or unaccountable private companies. In fact it is the lack of action by politicians, and the actions of private organisations, which have led to inaction on climate change and continued austerity measures” says Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary.

By examining the known preventative measures against mosquito borne diseases, such as Zika, there is clear evidence that quality public services are a major part of the solution.

The WHO outlines known effective control measures for Zika which are similar to control measures for all mosquito borne diseases. PSI asserts that most of these measures should be carried out by government-owned services thereby ensuring timely, effective and accountable responses.

For example, there is a clear role for local government services in vector control: ensuring that waste is removed reduces the risk of stagnant pools of water accumulating where mosquitoes breed. There is a role for state and national governments in ensuring that waterways are clean and well stocked with fish which can eat mosquito larvae or by providing and applying safe and effective insecticides.

There is a role for governments in ensuring that public health education occurs and that there is support for health workers to identify and report cases, and to provide the appropriate education to communities.  This way people can take personal preventative measures. This public health role should go so far as to provide personal protective equipment where communities cannot do so for themselves, through, for example, the provision of personal insecticide or mosquito nets.

There is a role for government laboratories in fast-tracking vaccines and other medicines that target community needs rather than leaving the production of medicines to profit-driven private pharmaceutical companies.

After Ebola

This latest declaration of a global public health emergency comes on the back of the Ebola crisis that devastated communities across West Africa, killing over 11,000 people – a figure accepted by the WHO to be an underestimate.

Most cases of Zika are not fatal, there are, however, growing concerns with regard to complications arising from exposure to the virus. Whilst links between the Zika virus and the large number of cases of microcephaly within Brazil are yet to be proved, PSI notes that these health crises, Zika and Ebola, share alarming commonalities. It is the communities that lack quality public services that are the most at risk; it is communities in developing nations, and those hit the hardest by austerity measures, especially women and children that suffer time and time again.

PSI argues for politicians to be held accountable in ensuring that strong government regulations pertaining to public health issues are carried out, and that public services be well equipped to service the needs of their communities. Failure to act in such a way will see episodes like the recent Ebola and Zika crises occur more and more frequently.

PSI calls on politicians to urgently act to ensure that quality public services are in place to deal with, and prevent, such crises. PSI asserts that it is only through government-controlled services that we can hope to deal with this, and future crises.

PSI  calls for:

  • Adequate work conditions for health sector workers to combat Zika and other endemic diseases;
  • Sufficient public health funding to provide preventative measures and treatment for affected people;
  • Good public prevention systems in order to control mosquitoes and other non-human vectors;
  • The establishment of a participative management task force where government, workers and organized society can decide together on the best ways to combat these and other diseases.

Also see