QUITO (AFP) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called Wednesday for Latin America to launch a region-wide fight against the Zika virus, blamed for causing a surge in brain-damaged babies.
Rousseff said she had asked a summit of the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) to launch “cooperative action in the fight against the Zika virus,” which originated in Africa and arrived in Latin America last year.
Since the outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus began, Latin American health officials have reported a surge in babies born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads.
Brazil has been the hardest hit, just months before it welcomes hundreds of thousands of travellers from around the world for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Cases of microcephaly, which can cause brain damage or death, have risen from 163 per year on average in Brazil to some 4,000 suspected cases since the Zika outbreak began.
Forty-nine of the babies have died.
Rousseff announced a meeting of regional health ministers on Tuesday in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo to address the outbreak.
The meeting will be held under the auspices of South American regional bloc Mercosur, but will be open to all Latin American and Caribbean countries, she said.
Celac will later organise its own health ministers’ meeting, she added.
Zika has so far been detected in about 20 countries in the region.
But the World Health Organisation has warned it is expected to spread to every country in the Americas except Canada and Chile.
Rousseff vowed to wage a “house-by-house fight” against Zika, echoing an announcement by her health minister Monday that 200,000 soldiers would be deployed to go house to house in a mosquito control campaign to wipe out breeding grounds.
“Most countries are adopting a model similar to ours of using the armed forces as one of the organisational vectors in the fight to physically eradicate breeding grounds and eliminate standing water,” Rousseff said.