Zika virus has been declared an international concern after a series of brain-damaged babies were born in some parts of the world. The declaration was made by the director of WHO Margaret Chan with a mission to come up with funds that will tighten research on the fast growing virus.
The virus is spread by mosquitoes and stakeholders would like to establish if zika virus is responsible for the large number of babies born with abnormally small heads in Brazil.
The organization has therefore pledged to pull resources together and ensure that pregnant women are prevented from zika virus through mosquito control and other measures. Chan called the birth of thousands of babies with microcephaly “an extraordinary event and a public health threat to other parts of the world.” Speaking at the WHO’s international health regulations emergency committee, the director called on all international expertise to help out in the research.
“Members of the committee agreed that the situation meets the conditions for a public health emergency of international concern. I have accepted this advice,” she said.
On the onset of Ebola in West Africa, Chan received massive criticism on the fact that she was hesitant in making a declaration causing huge damage in Africa.
However, picking up form the mistake, the director said, “it is important to realize that when the evidence first becomes available of such a serious condition like microcephaly and other congenital abnormalities, we need to take action, including precautionary measures,” she said.
Tropical disease experts involved in the Ebola epidemic applauded the declaration. “The WHO faced heavy criticism for waiting too long to declare the Ebola outbreak a public health emergency and they should be congratulated for being far more proactive this time,” said Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust. “Today’s declaration will give the WHO the authority and resources it needs to lead the international response to Zika.”
Unlike Africa, the director urged other countries to refrain from imposing any sort of travel restrictions on those Latin American countries where the Zika virus is spreading.
Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at Nottingham University, said. “A kneejerk response would be to ban travel and trade with countries affected, but the truth is that the potential problem is much wider. It wouldn’t really be feasible to lock down the affected countries to try to stop the spread of a virus that is carried by the Aedes mosquito, especially when affected and unaffected countries border one another.
“Until populations can build up sufficient immunity, either through natural infection or through vaccination, then the risk to pregnant women is real and therefore this group needs to take extra care to avoid becoming exposed.”
Experts in Kenya provide that the country is safe from the virus and a vaccine is underway. “We are working on two potential vaccines, each based on earlier vaccines created in response to prior outbreaks of West Nile virus and dengue.
It is to our advantage that we already have existing vaccine platforms to use as a sort of jumping-off point but it is important to understand that we will not have a widely available safe and effective Zika vaccine this year, and probably not even in the next few years,” the Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci told CBS news.
“The virus is very mild. Four out five victims survive. So far we do not have any reported cases in Africa and we should not worry so much about it.” The head of disease surveillance and response unit, Ian Njeru said.