World failing to come up with small funds to fight Zika

More than five months after US president Barack Obama requested $1.9bn (€1.7bn) to fight the Zika epidemic, members of Congress are going home to July 4 barbecues without approving a spending bill.

While Washington’s dysfunction is predictable given the current electoral climate, less noticed has been the global inertia facing efforts to combat the mosquito-borne disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has only $7.9m dedicated to fight Zika, which is spreading in 60 countries and has been blamed for more than 1,600 serious birth defects, mostly in Brazil.

The planet has never seen a mosquito-borne virus that causes microcephaly, resulting in babies born with small heads and brain damage.

In the Americas, Zika is racing through populations that have never been exposed before and thus have not developed any natural immunity.

To put the lack of funding in perspective: The three-month Olympic torch relay that ends with the start of the games in Rio de Janeiro this summer, sponsored by Coca-Cola, Nissan, and Brazil’s Banco Bradesco, has a bigger budget than the WHO’s strategy to fight Zika over two years.

“Activities proposed by WHO and its partners have been underfunded to date, and without sufficient funding the response is likely not to succeed,” the WHO wrote in its Zika Strategic Response Plan.

One lesson from the ebola epidemic in West Africa is that the world must respond swiftly to outbreaks, said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the US Centers for Disease Control.

While health authorities are responding with the money they have, no surge has materialised.

The WHO, part of the UN, sought $25m for the first six months of the crisis.

Governments and philanthropies have pledged just $4.1m to date, with donations from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The US, UK, and major powers of the EU have not contributed at all.

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