Haiti finds first case of microcephaly birth defect linked to Zika virus

A team from the National Institute of Public Health sprays anti mosquito product through the Koumassi district of Abidjan on August 15 during an operation aimed at preventing the spread of the Zika virus.
A team from the National Institute of Public Health sprays anti mosquito product through the Koumassi district of Abidjan on August 15 during an operation aimed at preventing the spread of the Zika virus.PHOTO: AFP

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti has identified its first case of the birth defect microcephaly linked to the Zika virus, a senior Health Ministry official said on Tuesday (Aug 16).

Mr Gabriel Thimothe, director-general at the Ministry of Public Health and Population, said the case was confirmed on Saturday by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Haiti has confirmed 14 cases of the birth defect since March, up from previous reports of two cases, Mr Raymond Grand Pierre, the director of the Department of Health and Family in the Ministry of Health, said.

In the other 13 cases, authorities have not established a link to microcephaly although the number may indicate Zika is more widespread in Haiti than previously thought.

According to a chart provided by the Centers for Disease Control, Haiti has recorded nearly 3,000 Zika cases.

But the World Health Organization says the overwhelming majority of cases of the virus in the island nation are suspected and not confirmed.

Thimothe said the baby with Zika-linked microcephaly was born in the city of Mirebalais earlier this summer.

Boston-based Partners in Health and its sister organisation, Haiti-based Zanmi Lasante, said in a statement on Aug. 9 that two babies had been born with microcephaly in their University Hospital Mirebalais.

US health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly. The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,600 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.

Haiti's healthcare system is still suffering from the fallout of the 2010 earthquake that killed about 300,000 people and a still-ongoing cholera epidemic that began shortly afterward, killing about 8,600 people and infecting 707,000.

Health facilities were also paralyzed this year by a months-long strike by medical residents over pay and working conditions, which Mr Thimothe said had largely ended.