In Zika, as in Ebola responses, emergency responses meet status quo

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Of the $9.6 million the United Nations Population Fund tried to raise to address the sexual spread of Zika virus in countries around the world, it has received just $250,000, according to the World Health Organization’s most recent update on global responses to the disease, released last week.

UNFPA had estimated that $9.6 million would be needed, for a start, to ensure adequate supplies of condoms, and enable communication and counseling on a massive scale to protect women from acquiring the virus that causes severe birth defects and other disabling health impacts and currently is spreading in 60 countries. The $250,000 was a late-breaking donation, according to WHO, and came entirely from Japan. In addition, a company has donated 50,000 female condoms, the WHO update says.

This news, along with a list of other shortfalls in funding for global responses to the virus, was followed this week by an updated guidance from the organization doubling the length of time, from one month to two, during which men and women returning from an area where Zika transmission is occurring are recommended to use condoms or abstain from sex. The updated guidance followed recommendations issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention two weeks earlier, as well as a report of a man whose semen tested positive for the virus 62 days after beginning to experience symptoms of Zika. So far, 10 countries have reported sexual transmission of the virus, 10 countries and territories have reported babies born with neurological defects associated with Zika, and 14 have reported cases of the paralyzing Guillain Barre syndrome in the context of the virus. Tuesday brought the first report of a child born with Zika-related microcephaly in the continental United States.

The update from WHO also shows UNICEF falling short by more than $12 million of the $13.8 million the agency requested to support mosquito control, outreach, and education in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United Nations Development Program raising just $40,000 of $4.17 million requested to address impacts of the Zika outbreak.

All of this follows news from WHO last week of “one of the most profound transformations in the Organization’s history,” with the agreement by member states at the just-ended 69th World Health Assembly to launch a new “Health Emergencies Programme” with a starting budget of $494 million. It also follows news from the World Bank that it will launch a $500 million insurance fund to fight pandemics — with the first $50 million commitment coming from Japan.

In the meantime, while no dollar response exists yet to the Obama Administration’s February request for $1.9 billion to address Zika and its impacts at home and abroad, the $510 million diverted from Ebola responses to Zika efforts is unlikely to be replaced; neither the Senate $1.1 billion proposal, or the House’s proposed $622 million reallocation of existing funds includes paying that back.

On the bright side, the World Health Organization announced “the end of Ebola transmission in Guinea” — again. This announcement marks the second for Guinea, where transmissions of Ebola from body fluids of a survivor were confirmed hours after the WHO declared the end of West Africa’s Ebola crisis — for the second time.



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