While the Ebola virus raged out of control in West Africa in 2014, the world as a whole was slow to respond. The response eventually raged in equal force with the disease, but at the end of it, more than 11,000 died and entire communities were destroyed.
It seems the world is determined to make no such mistake in response to the Zika virus.
The Rise & Mystery of Zika
Though the first human cases of Zika were detected in 1952, with outbreaks in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, the virus was first detected in the Americas only last year. Since January 2015, 41 countries and territories indicated local transmission of the Zika virus, and more than 150 U.S. cases have been reported. On Feb. 1, 2016, the World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responded at Level 1 to the virus (the highest, most accelerated response possible by the CDC).
Zika is commonly passed through the bite of Aedes mosquitos (pictured above). There is recent evidence that the virus can also be transmitted sexually and possibly through bodily fluids. Symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, achiness, and diarrhea. Because many people who have Zika never exhibit symptoms or because they have mild symptoms common in many illnesses, the virus often goes undetected. Even when it is detected, the virus is treated similarly to the flu, with fever-reducing pain medicines, fluids, and rest.
One of the most troubling aspects of the Zika virus are what it is linked to: Guillain-Barre, in which the immune system attacks the nerves, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis and death; and microcephaly, a defect in which a fetus’ brain does not develop properly during pregnancy, causing it to be born with an abnormally small head. Babies with microcephaly can be developmentally delayed, experience seizures, intellectual disabilities, hearing loss and vision problems, along with other similar issues. There is also a large amount of mystery around Zika – how it is transmitted, how long someone can carry the virus, and what else it is linked to. It is these elements that have elevated Zika to emergency crisis levels.
When the virus began to rapidly spread through South America last year, international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) mobilized to launch education and prevention campaigns. Much of the education and prevention efforts have centered on killing off mosquito breeding areas, using insect repellent, and the use of appropriate clothing and mosquito netting in hotbed areas. Other efforts have centered on the use of birth control, the screening of pregnant women when traveling to and from at-risk areas, research into the transmission aspects, and development of a vaccine. In the long-term, funders responding to this crisis will need to consider the support needs for children born with microcephaly and individuals who contract Guillain Barre as a result of the virus.
Funding to Combat Zika
U.S. funders have been interested in Zika, but not extremely active. Google.org has committed $1.5 million to combat Zika, most of it pledged to UNICEF. Google is also providing a team of engineers, designers and data scientists to help UNICEF design a projection model for responding to potential outbreaks of Zika and other emergencies.
Other funders include Paul Allen, who donated $2 million to mosquito-control efforts and to develop a rapid diagnostic test; and contributions have been made by SC Johnson, Spectrum Brands, CRC Industries, Summit Chemical Company, 3M and Walgreens. The CDC has activated its U.S. Emergency Response Fund and Global Disaster Response Fund.
Are you responding to the Zika virus as an INGO or funder? I’d love to hear how you’re working in this area as the Center for Disaster Philanthropy compiles information for funders around this crisis.