Brazil has declared an end to the state of emergency over the outbreak of Zika virus and microcephaly in the country on Thursday, 18 months after it hit global headlines.
This move came after a reported fall in the number of cases. According to Brazil’s Ministry of Health, there were 7,911 cases of Zika from January to April this year, compared to 170,535 cases reported in the same time last year.
The mosquito-borne disease was first identified in monkeys in Uganda in 1947. It was not considered a major health threat until the 2015 outbreak revealed that the virus can lead to severe birth defects.
One of those defects, microcephaly, cases babies to be born with abnormally small heads. Thousands of babies have born with microcephaly in almost 30 countries due to the outbreak.
It caused more concern when health officials said Zika could also be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person. Many would-be travellers cancelled their trips to Zika-infected places as a result.
There is still no treatment for the virus, as the only option is to reduce the risk of being bitten.
Brazil had declared a national emergency in November 2015. The threat led to a campaign to eradicate the mosquitoes which carry the virus.
The effort had led to a reduction of new microcephaly cases in Brazil. At the peak of microcephaly cases, in December 2015, there was a 135 percent increase in notifications. In 2017, only 230 cases of microcephaly and other nervous system disorders were confirmed.
Adriana Melo, the Brazilian doctor who raised alarm early in the outbreak about a link between Zika and birth defects, said the official lifting of the public health emergency had been expected.
“The important thing now is that we don't forget the victims,” she added.
The World Health Organization (WHO) lifted its own international health emergency status for Zika last November, but said said it remains a "significant and enduring public health challenge.”
“The end of the emergency doesn't mean the end of surveillance or assistance” to affected families, said Adeilson Cavalcante, the secretary for surveillance at Brazil's health ministry.
Cavalcante also stressed that public officials will continue efforts to combat Zika, dengue and Chikungunya, all carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
“The main axis to avoid the cases of the three diseases is to continue the combat against the mosquito Aedes aegypti,” Cavalcante said.