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Zika Virus – WHO Declares an International Public Health Emergency – Why India should be Concerned

Zika Virus – WHO Declares an International Public Health Emergency – The Indian Health Ministry has set up a joint monitoring group under the Director-General of Health Services (DGHS) to follow the events daily.

images (Copy)The Union Health Ministry has sounded an alert for Zika and appointed the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as the nodal agency for investigation of any outbreak of the viral infection in India.

This comes in the backdrop of the World Health Organization (WHO) designating the virus and its suspected complications in newborns as a public health emergency of international concern. The virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, which is also known to transmit infections such as dengue and chikungunya.

The WHO has named 22 countries and territories in the Americas where local transmission of the Zika virus has been reported. The virus causes microcephaly (little head) in the newborn.

In a press release, the Ministry said: “The NCDC, Delhi, and the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, would be the apex laboratories to support the outbreak investigation and for confirmation of laboratory diagnosis. Ten additional laboratories would be provided by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to expand the scope of laboratory diagnosis.”

While the ICMR will identify research priorities, the Health Ministry has set up a joint monitoring group under the Director-General of Health Services (DGHS) to follow the events daily. The NCDC and the Focal Point for International Health Regulations (IHR) have been tasked with sharing of information with the IHR focal points of the affected countries and be in constant touch with the WHO for updates.

Public health experts say poor vector control in India could lead to a possible outbreak in the region. “Since India has the mosquito [aedes aegypti] responsible for the spread of the virus, the same one that causes dengue and chikungunya, if an infected individual comes here, infection can be spread by mosquitoes biting this person, acquiring the virus and then passing it on to those who are bitten subsequently. Since many parts of India have poor mosquito control, these areas remain vulnerable if an infected individual reaches those regions and gets exposed to mosquitoes,” said Vivekanand Jha, executive director, George Institute for Global Health.

India has had a history of Zika virus attacks as early as in the 1950s, says a BBC report, citing a study conducted by the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune.

It was found that ‘significant numbers’ of people were exposed to the virus as early as in the 1950s, even before the first official case in humans was registered in Nigeria in 1954. Only thirty-three of the 196 people tested for the disease had immunity to it. The NIV had concluded in their paper that “It therefore seems certain that Zika virus attacks human beings in India.”

However, the research team was not too concerned about Zika at the time as it was considered to be a mild condition resulting in just a fever and a slight rash, with no long term implications.

However, the threat from the virus has increased ‘exponentially’ now, enough for the WHO to declare it as an international public health emergency.

The Zika virus has no vaccine or cure yet.

With mosquito-borne diseases such as Dengue and Malaria being widespread in the country, India needs to work out how it will prevent a similar outbreak of the Zika virus.

This marks the fourth time the WHO has declared a global health emergency since such procedures were put in place in 2007, with the others arising from influenza, Ebola and polio.

Source: The Hindu