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Jun 14

The fight against the Zika Virus

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The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that over 2,500 babies in Brazil will be born with microcephaly attributed to Zika. “If this pattern is confirmed beyond Latin America and the Caribbean, the world will face a severe public health crisis,” said the WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. She said the Zika virus initially looked “reassuringly mild,” with no hospitalizations or deaths reported when it first showed up in Brazil May 2015. But in less than a year, she said, “the status of Zika has changed from a mild medical curiosity to a disease with severe public health implications.” The possibility that a mosquito bite could be linked to severe fetal abnormalities “alarmed the public and astonished scientists,” she said. WHO declared the cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders a health emergency on 1 February 2016. As of 2 June 2016, 60 countries and territories report continuing mosquito-borne transmission. 23 global and local partners are participating in the Zika virus response.

3 ways technology is helping in the fight

  • Several developers and laboratories have developed Zika tests. With a new three-in-one laboratory test for Zika and a pair of other dangerous viruses receiving emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration
  • Disease surveillance, emergencies preparedness and response tools
  • The official World Health Organization (WHO) Zika App which provides the latest information for health care workers .

3 challenges these tools have to address

  • The scientific uncertainties surrounding Zika virus infection. And as new scientific evidence is generated these tools need to evolve rapidly
  • How to get accurate changing information out to the right people
  • As with every public health crisis the ability to respond quickly is critical. And this also applies to development of the tests and tools

The WHO Zika app addresses all of these issues: it was developed quickly in response to this crisis; it provides a source of truth for healthcare providers who are looking for the latest news and developments; and most importantly it is freely available in available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The Zika app has three main modules: general information, health care workers, and news. Each one has many sub topics, ranging from symptoms to transmission to prevention. The healthcare worker section contains all of WHO’s technical guidance, ranging from birth defect surveillance training to prevention through sexual transmission. The medical app contains numerous WHO graphics, PDF’s and videos along with the most current Zika news.

The potential scale of this crisis underpins the need for robust disease surveillance, emergencies preparedness and response tools at the local level to help individual countries fight. These tools need to be easy to use, adaptable as information changes, interoperable with other countries and most importantly affordable.

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