Zika Virus Update: Central America Gangs Obstructing Work Against the Virus Outbreak

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Feb 11, 2016 11:00 AM EST

Central America street gangs are impeding the work of health officials in their quest to quell the Zika virus in highly affected areas.

According to the New York Post, maras or organized street gangs have control over neighborhoods and they may deny access to health workers and sometimes they threaten their lives as well.

The presence of gangs is especially present in the country of El Salvador. El Salvador has a population of 6 million people. Since the start of the year, there have been over 700 recorded murders and its homicide rate from last year was 103 per 100,000 residents.

"The state is absent," Superior School of Economics and Business Criminologist Carlos Carcach said, as reported by Fox News Latino. "The state is being replaced by the gangs."

According to the outlet, there are over 7,000 suspected Zika virus cases in the area and the government is trying their best to fumigate and get rid of standing water to offset the propagataion of the carrier of the virus Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

Nelson Mejia, a sanitation coordinator in Villa Mariona, had personal experiences dealing with the maras. A clinic in the area had to be closed for many months because its staff was being extorted. While a wary truce allowed it to operate, there have been many incidences like this when it comes to government workers.

Mejia added that fear of the gangsters contribute to the epidemic as it hinders the government from doing their job. Intimidation and fears from maras and locals alike lead to slow and unreliable service which ultimately hurts the people residing in gang-controlled areas.

He cited that a man working for the health ministry's local water project had been beaten up and another clinic employee was chased away for being suspected as a cop. Some workers have been denied entry to the area while another was left after being intimidated.

The fumigation coordinator in Guatemala, Sergio Mendez, that they have been warned by locals not to go to Guatemala City because it was considered "too dangerous."

"We don't ask for help from the police or the army to enter an area, because later they go and carry out raids," Mendez said, as reported by ABC News. "And we have to go back. The people think we reported them."

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