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April 3, 2018

Catalysts of Change: The Women at the Center of ZICORE's Work



Gladys Zacarías with her two children in Cuilapa, Guatemala.

Gladys Zacarías of Cuilapa, Guatemala is a mother of two boys ages 3 and 10. Her eldest lives with a disability that affects his ability to walk. Because of water scarcity in her area, she leaves her children with neighbors to walk about 200 yards uphill on a dirt road to collect buckets of water from a communal spigot, which is then stored in a basin and a barrel outside of her home. She repeats this cycle every three days. If left filled and unclean, these containers are key breeding sites for Aedes egypti mosquitos, the main carrier of the Zika virus.

Since 2016, MCDI has worked with the national Red Cross societies of Guatemala and El Salvador to help prevent the spread of the Zika virus through USAID's Zika Community Response (ZICORE) project. ZICORE's aim is to reduce the number of mosquito breeding sites at the community level and to inform community members of the ways in which Zika can spread, its symptoms and its potentially dangerous consequences. Red Cross volunteers, in coordination with MCDI and the national vector control program, visit community members throughout Guatemala to spread this information. By empowering community members, especially women, to share what they have learned about preventing Zika, volunteers been able to make a noticeable impact within clusters of families, friend groups and neighborhoods.

Ms. Zacarías' encounter with ZICORE volunteers has allowed her to see the importance of preventing mosquito breeding sites. As part of ZICORE's entomological surveillance, Zacarías' home has been outfitted with an ovitrap, or a trap that mimics the preferred environment for mosquitos to lay their eggs, to help ZICORE track mosquito breeding hotspots. In exchange, her home is visited weekly to count eggs present and empty them from the trap, and she has been educated on how to prevent Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya.

"By being connected with the volunteers and with my community, I can recognize the importance of keeping my basin and barrel clean and covered so that neither me, my children nor my husband will get sick from a virus transmitted by mosquitos. Because of this, I have suggested that my neighbors cover their water barrels with nylon and clean their outdoor basins so that they don't become full of larvae," said Zacarías.

In the municipality of El Palmar, Reina Maribel Guinac García keenly understands the importance of protecting pregnant women from the Zika virus — she has a grandchild on the way. "Because of the Red Cross volunteers' visits and the information they have provided us, I can make changes in my household," she said. "My daughter-in-law is pregnant, and I recommended that she [and my son-in-law] keep their house clean, told them to use condoms, and informed them of the consequences if the baby is infected with Zika. I am thankful to the Red Cross for including us in the [ZICORE] project, as we know it is important for our health."

As a police officer in Camotán, Gladys Marina García works within her circle of influence to try to make a positive impact in the fight against Zika. She works to make sure the police station and the surrounding buildings do not have any standing water. Informational flyers are posted at the police station as well. In her personal life, she credits ZICORE for changing her mindset towards condom use, as she understands the importance of protecting herself against sexual transmission of Zika.

In Coatepeque, Digna Leticia Alvarado is committed to contributing to her community, and supports her local health commission by discussing how to prevent Zika with her neighbors. "With the recommendations given by the volunteers, we can prevent our families from becoming seriously ill. The importance of cleaning inside the home is fundamental, alongside the identification of breeding sites and eliminating breeding sites inside the home. My wish is that all of my neighbors become aware that the health of all our loved ones depends on what we do for the community."

This wish for healthier communities is at the heart of ZICORE's work — engaging community pillars, such as these women, who can make substantial changes in their families, their workplaces and their neighborhoods by preventing the spread of Zika. These women are examples of the power of both the individual and the community in disease prevention.

This blog post is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of MCDI and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.



Reina Maribel Guinac García with her grandchild in El Palmar.


Gladys Marina García at her police station in Camotán with a Red Cross volunteer learning about Zika prevention.


Digna Leticia Alvarado in her home in Coatepeque.




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