World Bank commits $150 million to Zika response

Larvae of Aedes mosquitoes that transmit Zika. To combat the disease, the World Bank is making $150 million available to pay for vector surveillance and control, pregnancy and postnatal care for neurological complications and public awareness and community mobilization, among other things. Photo by: Conred Guatemala / CC BY-NC-ND

After weeks consulting with governments across Latin America and the Caribbean, the World Bank announced Thursday $150 million in funding to combat the Zika virus and that it is prepared to offer more support if needed.

The funding commitment is roughly three times the amount requested Tuesday by the World Health Organization to implement its Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan, and roughly one-tenth the amount of funding the World Bank committed to battling the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The World Bank’s commitment will pay for vector surveillance and control, pregnancy and postnatal care for neurological complications, identification of individuals most at risk, family planning, public awareness, community mobilization and other activities to control the Zika outbreak, which has so far spread to more than 20 countries in the Americas.

The bank also projected the economic impact of Zika in Latin America and the Caribbean to total $3.5 billion or 0.06 percent of GDP in 2016 — an impact that the bank describes as “modest.” However, the assessment also warns that for countries highly dependent on tourism, the economic impact could be greater, and that a new assessment may be required.

“Our analysis underscored the importance of urgent action to halt the spread of the Zika virus and to protect the health and well-being of people in the affected countries,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement. “The World Bank Group stands ready to support the countries affected by this health crisis and to provide additional support if needed.”

Kim’s medical background led him to personally champion a stronger international response to West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, with the World Bank playing a leading role. Under Kim’s leadership the bank has also moved towards launching a new Pandemic Emergency Facility, expected to take shape this year.

Some health experts were surprised to see that the bank’s Zika response funding was so much less than what the institution committed for Ebola, which totaled $1.62 billion as of Dec. 1, 2015.

“It seems to me that both the bank and the WHO underestimate the costs that would be needed to truly fight Zika,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neil Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University and director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights, wrote to Devex in an email.

“Given the high costs of mosquito control, surveillance, and [research and development], I would think the likely amount is considerably greater,” Gostin added.

While both have prompted international concern and WHO public health emergency status, the similarities between Ebola and Zika should not be overstated. Zika, a nonlethal disease, is spreading rapidly in a region where countries have highly variable income levels and healthcare response capabilities. Some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have a great deal of experience with mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and chikangunya — and robust systems in place to respond.

“For the last couple of weeks, we have consulted extensively with all the countries across the region to get a sense of where they’re at [and] what their needs are,” a World Bank spokesperson told Devex.

The bank’s initial commitment, while it does not specify when or how additional funding decisions might be made, leaves the door open to further action.

“I think it’s too early to say,” the spokesperson told Devex.

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.