In the face of an alarming rise in the number of Zika virus cases in Latin America, the European Union (EU) has set aside €10m in emergency funding for research into the virus.
It’s an anxious time for people and for major health organisations around the world, particularly the World Health Organisation (WHO), in the face of a rapidly increasing number of Zika virus cases in Latin America being contracted from infected mosquito bites.
To underline the seriousness of the disease, the WHO has now officially declared the spread of the virus a global health emergency in order to speed up research into the virus, which is suspected of being behind the growing number of cases of microcephaly among newborn children in the region.
Given that there have now been a few reported cases of the virus in Europe from tourists returning home from affected countries, the EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, has ordered that €10m be pumped into research which, it is hoped, will help conclusively show links between the growing microcephaly cases and the Zika virus.
Once established, Moedas says, the funding will continue to develop greater diagnostic technologies and a potential vaccine for the virus, of which there is none currently.
It’s everyone’s problem
There is no denying, however, that the EU, from a continental perspective, does not see the virus posing a significant threat here, with it having just recently filed a report that said the risk in the EU for transmission of Zika virus infections remains extremely low.
However, Moedas says that this will not drive the EU’s efforts to help stop the spread of the virus.
“Our European values demand that we do not leave other countries to deal with such outbreaks alone,” he said. “While the risk of transmission of the Zika virus in the EU is still extremely low, there is currently no treatment or vaccine against the virus and that is everyone’s problem.”
Currently, €40m of funding has already been set aside by the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding programme to develop vaccines for malaria and neglected infectious diseases, including the Zika virus, which was first recorded in humans back in the 1940s.