The epidemic that put Latin America on high alert has left open questions about its causes and the accumulation of economic interests that have converged around the scourge
The potential causes of the reported microcephaly outbreak in Brazil are once again under the spotlight with the publication of an article (below) by Roberto Rovasio, former lead researcher at Conicet, the Argentine government’s main research institute.
The most widely promoted explanation for the microcephaly cases is that they are caused by the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.
However, not everyone agrees that the Zika virus is the only, or even the chief, suspect. Dr Rovasio names several potential causes or contributing factors. These include the pesticides that are being sprayed to combat mosquitoes, as well as the lack of sanitation, and of piped water supplies and regular waste collections, in affected areas.
His message reinforces a recent article by the Argentine journalist Dario Aranda, which GMWatch translated and published. The article quoted doctors and researchers denouncing the extent of the chemical warfare against mosquitoes that’s being promoted by the chemical industry, abetted by its allies in government. This strategy, the researchers say, puts at risk the health of the population while failing to reduce mosquito-borne diseases.
‘Experts’ quoted by the Science Media Centre have rejected any consideration of one particular pesticide, pyriproxyfen, as a possible contributor to some of the microcephaly cases and are keen to keep our attention firmly on the Zika virus as the only potential cause.
That’s in spite of the fact that there is still no definitive evidence of a causative link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, and many other potential causes cannot yet be excluded – a fact made clear by another of the Science Media Centre’s chosen experts.
Dr Melissa Gladstone, Senior Lecturer in Paediatric Neurodisability, University of Liverpool, responded to the latest in a series of studies offering circumstantial evidence of an association between Zika and microcephaly by saying, “Unless direct links are made and/or full investigations of babies are undertaken to exclude other causes and to identify Zika infection in infants, it will be difficult to entirely link Zika with microcephaly.”
Dr Rovasio’s article sets out to redress the imbalance and to address these potential “other causes”. It raises a whole series of different issues that Dr Rovasio feels require proper investigation.
We certainly agree with Dr Rovasio that the potential role of pesticides should not be dismissed out of hand, and with Dr Gladstone that at the present time other causes of microcephaly than Zika should not be excluded from full investigation.
Microcephaly: Zika, pesticides, or profits?
By Roberto Rovasio, former lead researcher at Conicet*
La Voz, 14 March 2016
English translation by GMWatch
* The epidemic that put Latin America on high alert has left several open questions about its true causes and the accumulation of economic and political interests that have converged around the scourge
In the Lancet, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, Brazilian scientists, based on reports from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Ministry of Health of Brazil, have published a paper supporting the causal relationship between prenatal infection with the virus Zika and the frequency of microcephaly in northeastern Brazil.
In Brazil in 2015, cases of microcephaly numbered less than 200 per year. However, in the second half of 2015, 4,783 newborns suspected of having this birth defect were reported. Only in Pernambuco, reported cases went from 29 in October 2015 to 1,306 in January 2016. Of the suspects, 1,103 were clinically studied: 404 (36.6 percent) were confirmed as having microcephaly and 387 had brain abnormalities, while the Zika virus was detected in only 17 children.
The authors concluded that the number of Brazilian microcephaly cases had been overestimated, but accepted the increase in the annual rate, which they were quick to associate with the Zika virus, and declared that the country was facing an "epidemic of microcephaly”. In their view, the brain abnormalities found were "consistent with congenital infection" [infection during pregnancy]. We are obliged to correct that statement, because these malformations are compatible with almost any harmful agent (e.g. a pesticide) acting on the embryonic brain.
Nowhere in the article was any other possible cause of microcephaly mentioned, other than the Zika virus. This skewed vision might be expected, since some authors are molecular biologists, but others specialize in epidemiology and preventive medicine, and in this field the omission is more serious.
Similar events in the region and a treatment of the phenomenon from unorthodox angles drive us to investigate other avenues that have been suspiciously closed off in the national and international press.
Environmental health and other matters
In one of those avenues, the Brazilian Association of Collective Health (Abrasco) reported that in northern Brazil, a poor region with serious immunological conditions and precarious urbanization, where the alert was raised about microcephaly in October 2015, chemicals have been applied against the Aedes aegypti mosquito for more than 40 years without success.
Inadequate sanitation, poor garbage collection and lack of access to drinking water are highlighted in the extreme degradation of the health in that region.
It is reasonable to conclude, then, that pesticide sprays have been deposited in open containers (inadequate, but the major form of water reservoir in the region) for more than 40 years. Today pesticides are also sprayed in tank trucks for water distribution.
Brazil uses more pesticides than any country in the world. Between 2000 and 2012 usage rose 162 percent, with more than 800 thousand tonnes of the most powerful pesticides used in 2012 alone.
Many pesticides used in the region are banned in more than 22 countries and multinational companies import, produce, and sell pesticides in Brazil that are banned in their countries of origin. Since 2014, mosquito control is performed by applying the Ultra Low Volume method, an efficient spray system developed by the US Armed Forces.
The story began in 1968, when the organophosphate Temephos was put into drinking water in the northeast. This was later replaced with Diflubenzuron and Novaluron, which have known toxic effects on humans. Since 2014, Malathion, a potential human carcinogen and teratogen (producer of malformations) has been applied.
Currently pyriproxyfen pesticide is applied to drinking water. It is made by Sumitomo Chemical, a Japanese "strategic partner" of Monsanto. These agents cause hormonal deregulation and malformations in insects that prevent their development into an adult.
However, as with glyphosate, which causes abnormalities in embryos of "lower" species, some opinionated decision-makers argue that the experimental data (from the producers of agrochemicals) do not show that harm could also occur in human embryos.
If the statements of these "experts" were not so dramatic, pathetic and irresponsible, they would still be the products of ignorance, since it is now known that in many biological systems, mechanisms of gene regulation and epigenetics are almost identical in insects and in man (and woman).
To the agrotoxic panoply used against insect vectors, transgenic biotechnology has now been added. These systems, which are of doubtful effectiveness, imprecise, and have poorly studied results, are used without strict controls – and the threats they pose to fragile ecosystems such as northern Brazil and other areas of the planet are dismissed.
As a recent example, the company Oxitec, set up in 2013 in Campinas, Brazil, developed a transgenic mosquito, which it patented and marketed in 2014. The GM mosquito has already been released in northern Brazil, which led to a major dispute between groups of scientists and ecologists. Today it is known that neither the Aedes aegypti mosquito nor dengue have decreased in Brazil since the release of transgenic mosquitoes. No long-term studies were carried out and the influence of these mosquitoes on other insects from the area is unknown.
For example, if Aedes aegypti is removed, it could be replaced by Aedes albopictus ("tiger mosquito"), one of the most harmful invasive species in the world, which reproduces rapidly and is much more aggressive (but this would be part of the next chapter).
Human populations inhabiting the region were not consulted before the "treatment" went ahead.
Other actors in this scenario are vaccines. Just as an example, consider DPT (diphtheria-whooping cough-tetanus). According to the Food and Drug Administration (its English acronym is FDA), this vaccine is considered a biological agent whose safety in pregnant women has not been demonstrated.
However, it was given to all pregnant Brazilian women from 2014. This vaccine, like many others, should be considered potentially hazardous in terms of causing fetal malformations. But in announcing the causal relationship between Zika and microcephaly (without scientific evidence to substantiate it), the sequencing of the viral genome and the rapid generation of a vaccine were anticipated.
Who do you agree with?
As in our neighbouring countries, many epidemics are associated with insect vectors, followed by a lucrative strategy of pesticides-resistance-more pesticides. These same epidemics are often attributed to a virus, although this is not always [scientifically] demonstrated, but is quickly proposed in order to develop the vaccine panacea. However, the agenda of health policies rarely include the more laborious and unprofitable fight against poor social and environmental conditions, which is moved to a silent and subordinate position.
No doubt some of those health arguments are correct. But when the health solution is only based on combatting the insect vector with huge amounts of toxics, in actions applied unsuccessfully for over 40 years, or using modern biotechnology in dubious and uncontrolled interventions, it is legitimate to suspect that the tendency of many of those responsible for health is not in the public interest or that of the affected population.
Usually, those responsible and their partner agencies (accomplices?) are linked to powerful multinational suppliers of chemicals and GMOs to agribusiness, a model developed in the Northern hemisphere after World War II and introduced in our region from the decades 1950-1960. Also it is worth remembering that many of these companies are (or are derived from) producers of chemical agents of mass destruction used in the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and so on.
In sum, we have:
• An increased rate of microcephaly in poor regions with enormous health deficiencies.
• The "epidemic" was associated with the Zika virus, and confirmation is required from radiology and laboratory tests. Of the 4,783 investigated infants, the Zika virus was demonstrated only in 17 newborns. Since the ‘establishment’ [of the notion that the Zika virus causes microcephaly], other possible causes are not mentioned.
• The region where chemicals have been applied unsuccessfully for 40 years has been bombarded [with more chemicals]. The microcephaly cases appeared in Brazil in areas where the spraying of pyriproxyfen in drinking water has increased in the last 18 months. It is known that other pesticides used in Brazil and this region (Atrazine, Metholachlor) cause microcephaly.
• Multinational laboratories based in Brazil develop and sell transgenic mosquitoes to combat Aedes aegypti, with results that are doubtful or poorly understood. They work feverishly on anti-Zika vaccines to combat a disease that was traditionally benign, and, although it infected up to 75 percent of the regional population, had never caused microcephaly or serious health problems, dating back to the 1940s.
• On the threshold of the next Olympic Games in August in Brazil, we can expect to see planetary media coverage of Zika-microcephaly-mosquito-pesticides-vaccines, etc., with the timely appearance on the market of a magic vaccine (perhaps as miraculous as that for [‘swine’] flu H1N1) in combination with no less miraculous transgenic mosquitoes, which "saved" humanity from a global pandemic. In Brazil, already it is reported that 200,000 soldiers are ready to stop the "new plague of Zika".
• The women of El Salvador and other countries have been asked not to become pregnant until 2018 and the population of Latin America and Africa have been asked to delay procreation, which makes one think of a convenient system of depopulation, or an innovative birth control method for the Third World.
• As a backdrop, when NGOs and scientists warn about the urgency to include in the discussion basic public health measures and better control of pesticides and GMOs, they are classified as "unscientific", "anti-progress", and " antimodernity".
• As an "added value" to the alarm on Zika-microcephaly, a wave of clandestine abortions has begun in Brazil without confirmation of abnormalities, with its correlative of commodification and discrimination.
• A few days ago, the WHO committee on Public Health Emergency of International Interest recognized the traditional mildness of the disease caused by Zika virus, recommended seeking the yet unproven cause of microcephaly, recalled that the abnormality may be caused by other recognized viruses, chemicals and environmental toxins, and advised the identification of an animal experimental model that responds to "Koch's postulates" [criteria to identify the cause of a disease], just as in other infectious diseases – and only in the long term, continue to discuss vaccine development.
• In the view of many scientists and environmental experts, the Zika virus is being used to conceal the horrendous damage caused by pesticides in a large-scale human experiment.
• To position the virus as a miniature terrorist opens the doors to a blind obedience to the dictates of the pharmaceutical-agrochemical-biotechnology industries, through their puppet governments.
• Experts also agree that the strategy of orientation towards economic interests has co-opted many ministries of health, agriculture, environment, and science and technology in Latin American countries (as in the United States), as well as the WHO, PAHO and other agencies, and its main objective is the prising open of new markets in periphery and dependent countries.
• Need I remind you that – among other examples – the purchase of the famous international flu vaccine to fight N1H1 "pandemics" exceeded the historical proportion of patients?
* The National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) is the main organization in charge of the promotion of Science and Technology in Argentina