As the World Health Organization continues to seek ways to deal with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, the world body has warned that the virus could spread to all countries in the Americas except Chile and Canada, reports Reuters.
The outbreak which started in Brazil, has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, and is likely to spread to all but two of the countries in the Americas, the WHO warned on Monday. However, the virus has not yet been reported in the United States; but that has not stopped authorities in the country from issuing travel warnings to its citizens. However, a woman who reportedly fell sick as a result of the virus in Brazil later gave birth to a brain-damaged baby in Hawaii.
The Health Ministry in Brazil said in November that the virus was linked to a fetal deformation known as microcephaly; which is a condition where babies are born with smaller-than-normal brains.
So far, the South American country has reported 3,893 suspected cases of the microcephaly, according to what the WHO said on Friday. This figure is over 30 times more than in any year since 2010, which is equivalent to 1-2 percent of all newborn babies in the state of Pernambuco, which is one of the worst-hit areas in the country.
“We’ve got no drugs and we’ve got no vaccines. It’s a case of deja vu because that’s exactly what we were saying with Ebola,” said Trudie Lang, a professor of global health at the University of Oxford. “It’s really important to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.”
Health experts have called for a new system of incentives due to low investments in vaccines by large drug making firms. Most drug making firms have not shown enough commitment to producing vaccines in large and commercial quantities due to the uncertain commercial prospects linked with some of these diseases; with the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa as a recent experience.
“We need to have some kind of a plan that makes (companies) feel there is a sustainable solution and not just a one-shot deal over and over again,” Francis Collins, director of the United States National Institutes of Health, said last week.
Reuters however, reports that the Sao Paulo-based Butantan Institute is currently leading the research charge on Zika and said last week it planned to develop a vaccine “in record time”, although the director of the institute warned this was still likely to take three to five years.
British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline said on Monday it was studying the feasibility of using its vaccine technology on Zika, while France’s Sanofi said it was reviewing possibilities. All these point to the possibility of developing a vaccine to counter the virus. However, the question still has to do with how soon will these vaccines be available in commercial quantity?
Recall that the deadly Ebola virus that broke out in West Africa in 2015, left the world with a terrible memory; with countries like Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone still counting their losses.