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Global Health Emergency

There were 150 cases of the Zika virus in 2014 in Brazil. Since last October, there have been 3,500 cases. 20 countries are affected mostly in Central and South America and Zika is spreading exponentially.

The virus results from mosquitoes carrying infected blood and this usually happens during the day. Mosquitoes thrive where rubbish is scattered in the streets. The impact of Zika is linked to serious birth defects and children are born with abnormally small heads- microcephaly- and often have neurological problems, disorders of the nervous system and even paralysis.  There is no cure, no vaccine, no diagnostic test and no treatment. Over 4 million people might become infected in the next twelve months. The last such global emergency was in 2014 with Ebola, which killed over 11,000. Brazil will be the centre for next month’s Carnival and in August, Rio de Janeiro will host the Olympic Games. Latin nations are particularly at risk and women have been advised not to travel to affected countries. El Salvador has advised women not to get pregnant until 2018. Colombia, Ecuador and Jamaica suggest a shorter delay. Everyone is encouraged to take precautions against mosquito bites. Scientists are scrambling to produce a reliable diagnostic test and, even more, a vaccine to protect the vulnerable, especially women and children.

Health threats to communities are nothing new. As the people of Israel travelled through the wilderness, they faced health challenges. Sometimes, this was because of their own behaviour. Fiery serpents bit people, so many died. The people repented of their sin and cried out for the Lord God to help them. Moses was instructed to make a serpent and place it on a pole. Whoever looked at the serpent, would live. This symbol of a serpent on a staff was common among the Greeks and people of the Far East. It was a symbol of rebirth and renewal. Medical societies today, even my old secular College in Oxford, have that emblazoned as their crest. John’s Gospel uses the same picture to remind people of Jesus on the cross, dying for salvation. Whoever believes in the Son of Man lifted up will not perish but have eternal life.

The world now looks to medicine rather than God. One British company is genetically engineering infertile mosquitos to reduce the risks. Other scientists are developing new vaccines and diagnostic tests. Prevention is better than cure, so the conditions of poverty, lack of good sanitation and rubbish in the streets is something we can all do something about to save lives. Healing has many forms, but ultimately comes from the God, Who made us.

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