April 11, 2017

Health workers come face-to-face with Zika Congenital Syndrome

Written by Felicia Girón

This article originally appeared on USAID ASSIST. Reposted with permission.

As part of USAID’s Zika virus epidemic emergency response, ASSIST is providing technical support to the Ministry of Health in five countries—the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua—to train health care providers on counseling skills, improve Zika-related clinical processes, and implement a Zika quality improvement program. Learn more.

In honor of World Health Worker Week, we met with a neonatologist and two nurses working to care for the patients and families affected by Zika Congenital Syndrome in El Salvador. In this interview, they open their hearts and share their experience working with families affected by Zika—a virus that has shattered dreams, aspirations, and lives. In the background, we hear the alternating cries of newborns.

What was your first experience with the disease?

Shocking! Seeing the babies with deformities, primarily those cases with microcephaly where you could not find the reference points on their craniums. We’ve treated children like that before, but not with such frequency.

We were not emotionally prepared for it.

What was your experience providing medical care during the epidemic?

Lowering her voice and head one of them responds: We technically have the understanding of that pathology—we were just not emotionally prepared for it.

We learned to move them [the babies with Zika Congenital Syndrome] as little as possible and with great care. We identified the pain from their cries. Their cries and the fever were continuous.

During labor, the baby’s condition was still unknown to the mother, but the stress and the silence from the staff indicated that something was wrong.

What challenges have you had to face providing care for the patients and families affected by Zika Congenital Syndrome?

Showing the baby’s face for the first time to the mother is always difficult. In that moment, the mother needs emotional support, and we’ve had to manage the anxiety of the parents.

How does one overcome it?

You can’t. There is no cure for the small patient. No one can overcome the situation… one must carry it with them.

The only thing to do is to provide psychological support to the mother and family so that the baby has timely treatments. Each one carries on as they can.

What do health care providers need to continue their work in the context of this dangerous and little-known disease?

Providers need continuous feedback, preparing different case studies to differentiate Zika Congenital Syndrome and provide follow-up care to these children.

What is your message to the health staff who care for these mothers and their newborns?

Care needs to be thorough, just like we would provide to an unaffected baby, but with much more care due to the complications. Be aware of the symptoms [of Zika Congenital Syndrome] that show up in a baby. The pain is very noticeable.

Put yourselves in the mother’s shoes, as if that were your baby, so that you care and give him or her the love that they need. Lastly, provide the mother and the rest of the family with care as well—they need emotional support to carry on.