Sample Policy Brief

The following is a sample single page policy brief with specific action options and relevant stakeholders identified. It was written as an exercise and was never submitted or implemented.

Combatting Zika at the Rio Olympics and Beyond

Presented by Shannon Stewart

To [Official]

The Rio Olympics represent a critical opportunity to control the spread of the Zika strain that is associated with microcephaly in Latin America. The most effective known immediate control methods should be applied in Rio: eliminating standing water, fans, rational use of pesticides, and DEET education. To address the long-term spread, the US should consider policies including, but not limited to, the release of genetically modified mosquitos, eliminating standing water, and vaccine development. We should engage stakeholders within [Agency] and across agencies to identify interventions that are not currently being taken throughout the region.

Summary and Background

The Zika virus is a member of a family of viruses that includes Dengue and Chickungunya. It is spread mainly by the female Aedes mosquito, but it can also be sexually and vertically transmitted. Usually a mild infection, a recent large outbreak in Brazil has been associated with a dramatic (40-fold) increase in a profound birth defect, microcephaly, that is difficult to diagnose. The main danger of this disease is to pregnant women and their fetuses. The virus has spread to 27 countries since late 2014.

There are still many open questions about this new strain of Zika that require a robust research effort. Is toxoplasmosis a cofactor in microcephaly risk? Is a microcephaly diagnosis the extreme end of a spectrum of neurological disorders whose extent is yet unknown? Research on these questions is rapidly evolving.

Current Approaches

Effective mosquito vector control is a combination of reducing mosquito populations and reducing bites. Population control can be achieved through the release of genetically sterilized males, reducing standing water, and applications of chemical pesticides, all of which are used in Brazil. The most effective approaches to reducing bites are bed nets, fans, and the cosmetic repellent DEET, all of which are deployed by individuals.

To address the immediate threat, the IOC has announced plans to eliminate standing water and fumigate the Olympic village daily. Some countries in the region have issued recommendations for women to delay pregnancy for up to two years.


The Rio Olympics should be treated as a special emergency for vector and disease control. Fines should be imposed on property owners for standing water, fans should be deployed wherever possible where large crowds will gather, and pesticides should be used aggressively. Visitors should be educated on the safety and efficacy of DEET and other methods of bite prevention, as well as preventing sexually transmitted diseases. Pregnant women and their partners should speak with their doctors about the risks of travelling to Brazil. The [Agency] should engage [Stakeholder1] as well as [Stakeholder2], the CDC and USAID as partners in containing Zika at the Olympics.

To slow the long-term regional spread of the disease through vector control, countries of the Americas should consider releasing genetically sterilized male mosquitoes, improving municipal drainage, imposing fines for standing water, and spraying chemical pesticides. [Agency] should reach out to the President’s Malaria initiative (PMI) and USAID to identify the best interventions that are not currently implemented to control Aedes. Eradicating an insect vector is possible, but it requires extraordinary coordination between governments. The best long-term investment in combatting Zika is research towards a vaccine.

Metrics and Data

                   The CDC and analogous agencies overseas are capable of collecting biological surveillance data that would indicate the rate of infections of humans and mosquitos. There are also potential industry partners, such as [Company], that can provide disease surveillance. [Agency] should work with CDC, USAID, and PMI to establish realistic benchmarks for vector control, disease containment, and vaccine development.