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May 26, 2016

With only 8 weeks to go until the start of the Rio Olympics, the Zika virus is back in the headlines. Some athletes have revised plans to travel to Brazil for pre-Olympic training camps, while others have pulled out completely.

I recently returned from my first international trip with ActionAid, just after joining the US team over five months ago. The destination: Brazil. The purpose: to gain an understanding and firsthand perspective on the relationship between ActionAid and the local program affiliates with whom we work.

I visited the favelas of Recife, in the northeast region of the country, where mosquito-bred viruses like Zika are of top-concern. While it’s true that Zika is a nasty virus and many of the elite athletes and sports fans that will be arriving in Brazil in a few weeks’ time are right to be concerned, people living in poor areas of Brazil are at the greatest risk. They’re the ones that live in areas where poor sanitation provides breeding grounds for these deadly mosquitos, and they often can’t afford the insect repellents that provide the most basic of protection. With the people we work with keen to understand how they can better protect their families from the Zika virus, ActionAid, together with our local partner Etapas, hosted a fair where members of the community gathered to learn how to stop the spread of Zika by minimizing mosquito presence and creating homemade repellents.

At a time when the world’s eyes are on Brazil – because of the current political climate and the Rio Olympics right around the corner, urgent action is needed to contain the virus. The people I met during my visit showed me that Brazil is going through a period of change accompanied with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty for what’s to come – and that’s why ActionAid is on the ground working with the most vulnerable communities and making sure their needs are met.