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Published in: 06/22/2016

PAHO Executive Committee briefed on Zika outbreak, advances new arbovirus control strategy

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The long-term outlook for the Americas resulting from the Zika virus outbreak is uncertain and the number of people affected is difficult to gauge, but the Pan American Health Organization is responding with a strong, four-tiered strategy to support its countries, according to Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, PAHO's incident manager for Zika.

In a briefing to members of PAHO's Executive Committee, which is meeting this week, Aldighieri said that PAHO has sent 88 experts on 53 missions to countries and territories, focusing on priority areas of detection, prevention, response and research in Zika. He said much work remains to be done in research to define the absolute risk for congenital malformations and to describe the clinical spectrum of Zika congenital infections.

PAHO Director Dr. Carissa F. Etienne assured members of the committee that PAHO will continue to provide leadership and coordination of the Zika response. "Our challenge will continue in the medium and long-term on Zika. Aedes aegypti is a very elusive vector with high infestation rates, but we are fully committed to our Member States as far as Zika is concerned."

The PAHO Executive Committee, chaired by Ecuador's minister of public health, also advanced on a new strategy to prevent and control arboviral diseases including dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, and Zika, all of which have had major impacts in the Americas. Dr. Marcos Espinal, head of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis at PAHO, said that despite control efforts, dengue continues to increase, with 14 million cases and 7,000 deaths recorded between 2000 and 2014, and chikungunya has caused more than 1.7 million cases since it arrived in the region in December 2013.

"We must build on the current integrated management strategy for dengue prevention and upgrade it to a strategy for Arbovirus prevention and control," said Espinal.

The new strategy, likely to gain final approval at PAHO's Directing Council in September, focuses on strengthened surveillance, early detection of emerging and reemerging arboviruses, integrated control, improved detection and diagnosis, and improved control of the mosquito vectors of these diseases.

PAHO "mounted timely and effective responses to a number of disasters and outbreaks, building upon its vast experience in disaster management. We were able to work with partners to ensure strong support to our affected Member States," PAHO Director Etienne said. She highlighted the importance of the "integrated approach to the prevention of Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever" in the new regional Strategy for Arboviral Disease Prevention and Control.

This week's Committee deliberations will determine the final agenda to be discussed during the 55th Directing Council of PAHO, which will meet from 26 to 30 September this year. The Executive Committee is composed of nine Member States elected by the Pan American Sanitary Conference or the Directing Council of PAHO for overlapping periods of three years. Its current members are Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.