Brazil has been hit by the Zika virus, which can lead to severe birth defects in newborns. Bayer employee Amaila De la Torre, who herself is a mother of two children, has made the epidemic her project and launched an aid campaign.
“I was four months pregnant when I first heard about the outbreak of the Zika virus here in Brazil,” remembers De la Torre. “My head was instantly brimming with thousands of questions. Above all, could I be infected, too? Luckily, I had the chance to talk to a doctor right away and had ultrasound images taken.”
It is not absolutely certain how the virus made its way to South America. One thing scientists are certain about, however, is that it is mothers-to-be who are most at risk. If they become infected with the pathogen, there is a likelihood that their baby might be born with microcephaly, a deformation of the skull that can reduce a child’s life expectancy to just eleven years. Between November 2015 and July 2017, almost 2,900 babies in Brazil were born with the Zika syndrome. In response, the government declared a national emergency.
360° View of a Zika Virus
The virus is primarily spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which, according to the Human Rights Watch aid organization, found perfect breeding conditions in Brazil. More than 35 million Brazilians do not have access to proper waste disposal facilities, and only 32 percent of wastewater is treated. “Sanitation systems and access to clean water are often lacking in precisely those areas where poor people live – a paradise for mosquitoes,” says De la Torre, highlighting the difficult conditions.
The Mosquito –
Number One Killer
The mosquito is the world’s deadliest creature. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mosquitoes are responsible for around 725,000 deaths every year, with people living in tropical regions most at risk.
“It is incredibly resilient – a real master of survival,” says Frederico Bellucco, head of Marketing and Vector Control at Bayer’s Crop Science Division in Brazil. And it is precisely this fact that presents a range of challenges for scientists. First, because mosquitoes are becoming resistant to existing active agents. And second, because it is difficult to reach these tiny creatures.
Since the 1960s, Bayer has dedicated itself to insecticide research for vector control. Most recently, scientists at Bayer have spent six years creating an anti-mosquito spray comprising two active ingredients: FludoraTM Fusion. Soon, they hope, it will prove effective against the silent killer Aedes aegypti, which transmits not only the Zika virus but also the severe diseases dengue and yellow fever.
Bayer’s online “Mosquito Control Learning Lab” explains which diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes, how they spread and how you can protect yourself, your family and those around you against mosquito bites.
“These hordes of blood-sucking insects are more dangerous than any enemy army. Populations of Aedes aegypti have exploded worldwide over the past decade,” says environmental scientist Dr. Kurt Vandock, who is a senior scientist at Bayer's Crop Science Division in the United States.
As well as mosquito bites, the virus can also be transmitted during unprotected sex. “Unfortunately, not many people are aware of this,” says De la Torre, adding, “Bayer knows a thing or two about vector control – measures that can be taken to limit the spread of disease.” De la Torre, who is the Public and Governmental Affairs Manager for Bayer in São Paulo, knew that countermeasures had to be put into effect.
Following the birth of her healthy daughter, Luna, she returned to the world of work and is now working intensively on a Zika aid project. For this she is receiving around EUR 200,000 in funding from the Bayer Foundation. She is developing an awareness campaign in the state of Pernambuco with Fundo PositHiVo. Street parades will be held to inform people about the virus. After all, as this native Colombian says, up to this day nothing has changed so far to effectively combat the causes of the spread of the virus. There is still a severe lack of sanitation systems, clean water, proper waste disposal systems and knowledge about how to avoid infection. “The next outbreak could occur at any time,” she fears.
The next Zika outbreak could occur at any time.
“We want to raise awareness in schools and get teenagers on board who use the language that their generation understands. There is still a lot to do,” says this mother of two. Her fight against the virus has only just begun.