Cuba sending 9,000 soldiers to fight Zika virus

Andrea Rodriguez
Associated Press

Havana – — Cuban President Raul Castro announced Monday that he is dispatching 9,000 soldiers to help keep the Zika virus out of Cuba, calling on the entire country to fight the mosquito that carries the disease.

In a rare front-page message on the state-run newspaper Granma, Castro said Cuba’s fight to prevent the arrival of the virus had been hampered by “the inadequate technical quality” of efforts against the mosquito, insufficient work to clean up areas where the mosquito propagates and poor weather conditions.

He wrote that the active and reserve military personnel and 200 national police officials would reinforce the Public Health Ministry’s efforts to spray neighborhoods for mosquitoes and eliminate breeding spots. He said Cuba has yet to report a case of Zika, which is suspected of causing birth defects in Brazil.

Cuba prides itself on its system of free, neighborhood-level health care, which has included intensive efforts to limit the Aedes aegypti mosquito that also carries the tropical diseases dengue and chikungunya. Those efforts include door-to-door fumigation of homes and offices by young army recruits and civilian workers.

Castro’s didn’t elaborate on his criticism of anti-mosquito efforts, but the young workers can frequently be seen marking locations as fumigated even when they encounter no one home, or the residents say they are allergic or asthmatic to the chemical fog used in the anti-mosquito effort.

The military is widely perceived as more effective and disciplined than Cuba’s civilian state workers, who earn about $25 a month on average.

“Once again, the real protagonist in the fight against the menace of epidemics is our people, so it’s essential to be able to count on their conscious participation in order for this important and necessary work to be successful,” Castro wrote.

President Barack Obama on Monday sent lawmakers an official $1.9 billion request to combat the spread of the Zika virus in Latin America and the U.S.

Brazil Zika study

A 16-member team of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is starting work on a “case-control” study aimed at determining whether the Zika virus really does cause babies to be born with the devastating birth defect microcephaly, as Brazilian researchers strongly suspect.

The study kicked off on Monday with a training session in Joao Pessoa, a city in Brazil’s northeastern region that is the epicenter of the South American nation’s Zika outbreak.

The CDC team is working with dozens of members of Brazil’s Health Ministry, as well as Paraiba state’s health secretariat.

The team members will fan out though Paraiba starting Tuesday to track down babies with microcephaly and their mothers.