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Experts warn of a surge in vector-borne diseases as humanitarian crisis in Venezuela worsens – reaction comment

The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is accelerating the re-emergence of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, Chagas disease, dengue, and Zika virus, and threatens to jeopardise public health gains in the country over the past two decades, warns a new study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

What exactly is causing the increase in disease incidence? And how can this health crisis be halted? Commenting on the study Jimmy Whitworth, Professor of International Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“Public health systems are barely noticed when they are working well, it is when they fail that they become conspicuous.

“The study documents the surge in vector-borne diseases in Venezuela brought about by two decades of socio-economic crisis and the collapse of previously well-functioning health systems. Breakdown of vector control, vaccination programmes and water and sanitation services, coupled with failures in surveillance and response, will inevitably lead to the emergence of a wide range of previously controlled diseases and an increased risk of outbreaks. The lack of health services discourages citizens from presenting to clinics, leading to under-reporting, further undermining any public health response.

“Infectious diseases do not recognise international borders, and together with the mass migration of Venezuelans to neighbouring countries, this national crisis threatens public health in latin America and beyond. The authors of this paper quite rightly call for urgent action and political, health and scientific commitment from national, regional and global authorities to prevent the expansion and worsening of this devastating health crisis.”