World Bank ramps up discussions on Zika response

A worker for the health ministry fumigates a house in Guatemala to combat the Aedes mosquitoes, which are the transmitters of the Zika virus. What is the World Bank doing in response to the outbreak? Photo by: Conred / CC BY-NC-ND

Zika-affected countries have requested assistance from the World Bank to respond to the outbreak and the global financial institution is in close communication with the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization and affected countries to determine what its response will look like.

The mosquito-borne virus is spreading rapidly across Latin America and the Caribbean and is thought to be the causing microcephaly — a neurological condition associated with small heads in newborn babies.

“We have communicated with countries across the region that we are ready to help them mount an effective response to the epidemic itself, further strengthen their health systems and mitigate any potential economic impacts,” Anugraha Palan, a World Bank spokeswoman, wrote in an email to Devex.

The primary focus of a global response to the virus should be “to decimate the vector — mosquitoes,” wrote Palan, adding, “This will require a hand-to-hand combat approach, community by community, country by country.”

The WHO declared Zika virus a global health emergency earlier this month.

The Obama administration announced Monday that it will ask the U.S. Congress for over $1.8 billion in emergency funding for Zika response and preparation, which includes $335 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development to support training of health care workers, build education campaigns and develop a Global Health Security Grand Challenge among other priorities.

The World Bank has “a major role to play” in the Zika response according to 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.

“The bank’s main function would be to mobilize and disburse funding, while working with WHO and other public health agencies to clearly set out the priority areas for funding,” Gostin wrote to Devex in an email.

Priority areas for Zika funding “should include aggressive mosquito control; surveillance; and R&D for diagnostic tests, vaccines, [and] establishing the link between Zika and microcephaly,” Gostin wrote, adding that World Bank funds should be “conditioned on government’s agreeing to implement priority measures, with clear benchmarks for implementation and full transparency and accountability.”

While the specifics of the World Bank’s response to Zika is still being determined, the global financial institution is working with the WHO and other partners to develop a Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility that would provide quick funds to countries and health care responders in order to help tackle future pathogen outbreaks such as the Ebola crisis — which for months affected West Africa.

The PEF is not yet operational and it is unclear whether Zika will fit the category of pathogens that the PEF will be designed to address, but the World Bank does have “a range of financing tools available to support countries in the Zika response right now,” wrote Palan.

How do you think the World Bank should respond to the Zika outbreak? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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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.