GEORGIA, United States, Wednesday November 16, 2016 – The global fight against the Zika virus is far from over, Director of the Pan America Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Carissa Etienne warned, as she urged the Caribbean and the rest of the world to redouble efforts to keep the disease at bay.
Declaring the fight against Zika a “marathon” and not a “hundred-metre race,” Etienne cautioned that too much was at stake for countries to let down their guard.
“There is still a long way to go on Zika,” she told the opening of the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday. “The development of affordable new tools by the scientific community, including diagnostic tests and a vaccine against Zika, as well as innovation in vector control, is an urgent priority. Our health systems will need to be prepared to ensure such new tools are introduced and that their benefits reach everyone, not merely a few.”
Tracing the rapid spread of the Zika since the outbreak surfaced in Brazil in May 2015, Etienne pointed out a year later, approximately 500 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean live in areas at risk for the transmission of the Zika virus.
“It is clear that the impact of this virus could be significant and could place an important burden on health services, especially in the treatment of serious complications associated with infection,” the PAHO official warned.
“No one could have imagined two years ago that our children would be affected by microcephaly as a result of this once dormant villain,” she said. “Regardless of the cause, a child with microcephaly means a complete family catastrophe.”
She stressed that the outbreaks underscored the importance of a strong partnership between medical and public health officials to detect and respond to emerging health threats.
Etienne urged countries to invest in the fight against Zika, praising the United States for its pledge to invest over US$1 billion in assisting countries to strengthen their capacity to tackle the disease.
“This is a major undertaking that requires significant investment,” she said. “If we have learned anything from the threats posed by influenza H1N1, Ebola, MERS and Zika, it is that a threat in one country is a threat everywhere.”