Zika epidemic demands $56m response, says WHO

18 Feb 16

The World Health Organization says it needs $56m to implement its global strategy to guide the international response to the spread of mosquito-borne Zika virus and associated complications.


WHO launched the global strategy yesterday, which focuses on mobilising and coordinating partners, experts and resources to help enhance surveillance, control and communication, provide medical care and fast-track the development of vaccines and treatment.

While WHO said that, in the interim, it is tapping a recently established emergency fund to finance initial operations, it will need $56m in total, $25m to fund the response of the WHO Regional Office for the Americas and $31m for key partners.

The strategy hopes to ensure that up-to-date and accurate information on the Zika virus, and the linked disorders of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, is provided. It also wants to scale up laboratory capacity to improve diagnostics and develop vaccinations and treatments, and support national efforts for rapid response.

More outbreaks of Zika are expected across the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific where the Aedes mosquito, which carries the disease along with dengue fever, is found.

WHO director Margaret Chan said she was alarmed about the potential for the virus to spread due to an absence of vaccines, treatments and immunity within the population.

The strategy will also work to improve communication with the public and community engagement, train healthcare personnel, increase efforts to control the spread of the disease and scale up research efforts.

Mitigating the impact of the disease on pregnant women through the development of clinical guidelines and pre-pregnancy, maternal and post-natal care, especially for those who contract the virus, is of particular salience.

Zika has been linked to a surge in cases of microcephaly, a foetal deformity which results in babies being born with abnormally small heads.

It has also been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder which causes the immune system to attack parts of the peripheral nervous system, causing rapid-onset muscle weakness, paralysis and sometimes death.

At the beginning of this month, WHO declared an international health emergency in response to the “explosive” spread of Zika virus.

There have been over 1.5 million cases of Zika in Brazil alone since the outbreak began in the country in May last year.

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