In 2015, a mysterious increase in the incidence of microcephaly in northeast Brazil alarmed health authorities, physicians, scientists, and the public. The spike in the number of mothers who gave birth to babies with this profound neonatal malformation was mostly concentrated in the poorest areas of the country. Responding to a request from the Ministry of Health, Celina Turchi, a physician and epidemiologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), the leading institution of biomedical sciences and public health in Brazil, immediately organized a collaborative network of epidemiologists, infectious diseases specialists, clinicians, reproductive healthcare practitioners, pediatricians, neurologists and biologists to identify the causes of the epidemic. These studies established the connections between microcephaly and infection by the Zika virus, a virus transmitted by the Aedes genus, mainly Aedes aegypti, and passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. In 2016, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus to be the cause of a global public health emergency.
The response Turchi led to the Zika crisis offers a model of how collaborative groups of scientists and interdisciplinary research can meet the needs of the population, especially the most vulnerable, in societies stratified by social and economic inequality. Her leadership has been internationally recognized. In 2016, she was considered by Nature International Weekly Journal of Science as one of the ten most important scientists in the world; and in 2017, Time magazine listed Turchi a pioneer in her field and one of the world's 100 Most Influential People.
In her talk at the University of Michigan, Turchi will discuss her experience in addressing the Zika crisis, including her ongoing work with the interdisciplinary Microcephaly Epidemics Research Group.
For more information or to contact Dr. Turchi, please email Elizabeth (Bebete) Martins at email@example.com