The rapid spread of the Zika virus has galvanised the global public health community toward development of ZikV vaccines, with pregnant women being the most important target.
Pregnant women who who contracted ZikV ran the risk of their babies being born with microcephaly, that is, small heads and undeveloped brains.
Speaking on Monday during the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Eastern and Southern Caribbean Zika Project at the Marriott, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) Dr James Hospedales said the project was geared towards minimising the number of pregnancies affected by the ZIKA virus and to mitigate the birth health defects throughout the region.
He said the issue of mosquito-borne viral diseases had been the subject of vector departments and institutions such as the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) and the Trinidad Regional Virus Lab since 1952. “We could get another outbreak of Zika in the next eight, nine, ten years, based on how other viruses behave in this kind of population. If we do not get a vaccine by then, all the work we are doing now, our research, our social marketing, would be lost.”
He said it was not just about keeping babies safe during pregnancy from ZikV, but in preventing other mosquito-borne diseases. Hospedales said there was a gap in regional health security in TT and other regions that has been there for some time and continued in the whole tropical world: that the domesticated mosquito is such a competent vector for many viruses that could kill people.
“Zika began in 2015 in the Caribbean, first in Suriname, with widespread transmission that we predicted: a new virus in a totally susceptible population in very suitable environmental conditions,” he said.
He said it was easy for ZikV to spread quickly because of a changing climate which was changing along with the population, and travel, with 26 million arrivals in the country last year.