A month after the World Health Organization’s recognition that the spread of the Zika virus and accompanying clusters of neurological birth defects and disorders constituted an international public health emergency, 67 research entities were at work on diagnostic tools, treatments, vaccine candidates and vector control products to confront the disease. Today a WHO-convened panel released a list of priorities for research and development needed to confront the immediate impact of the disease.
They include a diagnostic tool that can diagnose multiple vector-borne viruses, new vector-control tools and protective vaccines that can be administered to women of child-bearing age. While insecticide spraying has not been effective against dengue transmission, and is not expected to be against dengue, the panel underscored that innovative measures, while critical, must be evaluated with “extreme rigour.” A vaccine is needed against future outbreaks, the panel noted that efforts to speed development are needed now, and say guidelines for evaluating and registering preventive products should be prepared by May. Guidelines for the development of tests that can detect Zika, dengue and chikungunya are expected to be finalized by mid-April.
Because symptoms of the virus are relatively mild, if present at all, the development of treatments for the virus remain a low priority.
While development of the tools needed is only beginning, WHO Research and Development leader Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny credited “lessons learnt during the Ebola epidemic” with improving coordination of the efforts.