WHO declared Public Health Emergency of International Concern over Zika virus outbreak

Feb 2, 2016 13:12 IST

World Health Organisation (WHO) on 1 February 2016 declared Public Health Emergency of International Concern over the explosive spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is linked to birth defects in the Americas.

The UN health agency convened an emergency meeting of independent experts in Geneva to assess the outbreak of the virus. The meeting was convened after noting a suspicious link between Zika's arrival in Brazil in 2015 and a surge in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads.

This was the first meeting of the Emergency Committee (EC) convened by the Director-General under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR 2005).


Recommended Measures
After the meeting a broad list of precautionary measures were recommended and they are:
• Surveillance for Zika virus infection should be enhanced, with the dissemination of standard case definitions and diagnostics to at-risk areas.
• The development of new diagnostics for Zika virus infection should be prioritized to facilitate surveillance and control measures.
• Risk communications should be enhanced in countries with Zika virus transmission to address population concerns, enhance community engagement, improve reporting, and ensure application of vector control and personal protective measures.
• Vector control measures and appropriate personal protective measures should be aggressively promoted and implemented to reduce the risk of exposure to Zika virus.
• Attention should be given to ensuring women of childbearing age and particularly pregnant women have the necessary information and materials to reduce risk of exposure.
• Pregnant women who have been exposed to Zika virus should be counselled and followed for birth outcomes based on the best available information and national practice and policies.

Longer-term measures
• It calls to intensify an appropriate research and development efforts for Zika virus vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
• In areas of known Zika virus transmission health services should be prepared for potential increases in neurological syndromes and/or congenital malformations.’

Travel measures
• There should be no restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission.
• Travellers to areas with Zika virus transmission should be provided with up to date advice on potential risks and appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites.
• Standard WHO recommendations regarding disinsection of aircraft and airports should be implemented.

Data sharing
• National authorities should ensure the rapid and timely reporting and sharing of information of public health importance relevant to this PHEIC.
• Clinical, virologic and epidemiologic data related to the increased rates of microcephaly and/or GBS, and Zika virus transmission, should be rapidly shared with WHO to facilitate international understanding of the these events, to guide international support for control efforts, and to prioritize further research and product development.

Zika Virus
Zika virus (ZIKV) is a member of the virus family Flaviviridae and the genus Flavivirus, transmitted by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes, such as A. aegypti. In case of humans, the virus cases mild illness known as Zika fever (Zika or Zika disease). It has been occurring since the 1950s within a narrow equatorial belt from Africa to Asia.

In 2014, the virus spread eastward across the Pacific Ocean to French Polynesia, then to Easter Island and in 2015 to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, where the Zika outbreak has reached pandemic levels.

Earlier in last week of January 2016, WHO estimated that there could be up to 4 million cases of Zika in Americas by 2017 but no recommendations didn’t issued travel restriction or trade.

What is a public health emergency of international concern?
The term public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) is defined in the International Health Regulations as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”. This definition implies a situation that is:
- Serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected
- Carries implications for public health beyond the affected State’s national border
- May require immediate international action

The responsibility of determining whether an event is within this category lies with WHO’s Director-General who may seek the views of the IHR Emergency Committee.

The last such public health emergency was declared for the devastating 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which killed more than 11000 people. A similar declaration was made for polio the year before.

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