The World Health Organization has arranged for an ‘International Health Regulations Emergency Committee’ to convene Monday 1 February to establish if the outbreak of the Zika virus constitutes as an international public health safety hazard. Reason for the meeting are the alarming infection rates observed in Middle and South America and the steep increase in neurological pathology in infants and neonatal malformations in the region.
While presence of the Zika virus disease was first reported in Brazil in May 2015, it has since been confirmed that currently the virus circulates in at least 23 countries in South and Middle America. The virus has furthermore emerged in other parts of the world, such as Thailand and the Cape Verde archipelago near West Africa. American scientists warn that short-term decisive global action is required to prevent the Zika virus from becoming a full-blown pandemic, an epidemic on a global scale.
Thousands of people have contracted the virus so far, although the WHO predicts that the number of infected people will further increase to 3 to 4 million people in coming months.
The European Centre for Disease Control has released a risk assessment for the European region, indicating that there is a realistic threat of the virus emerging in Europe.
The WHO actively assists ministries of health in affected countries to improve their capacities for detecting the presence of the Zika virus through laboratory testing and rapid response. In doing so, the WHO tries to effectuate and ensure precise clinical diagnosis and treatment, to monitor how the virus and the responsible mosquito spread, and to improve mosquito control.
The WHO is furthermore bringing together international experts for tackling crucial shortcomings in the available scientific literature about the virus and its potential adverse health effects on fetuses, children and adults. The WHO prioritises the development of accurate diagnostic tests, vaccines and new tools to control mosquito populations.