The World Health Organization said it will back clinical trials of developing genetically modified mosquitoes that will help cure diseases contracted by the Zika virus. The organization also said that $56 million would be required to fight the virus, which has spread to 39 countries.
In the trials, the sterile male mosquitoes were released to allow them to mate with wild females. The Vector Control Advisory Group has suggested the field trials that involve genetically modified mosquitoes be continued. According to RT, experiments that involve releasing irradiated male mosquitoes had previously been used to counter agricultural pests.
In a statement, the organization said, “Given the magnitude of the Zika crisis, WHO encourages affected countries…to boost the use of both old and new approaches to mosquito control as the most immediate line of defense.” The virus linked with the epidemic can cause microcephaly in babies suffering from damaged brains and small heads.
On February 1, a global public health emergency was declared by the WHO in response to the Zika outbreak. In addition to microcephaly, the highly dangerous virus can also cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can induce paralysis. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses, has been described by the WHO as an “aggressive” insect that uses “sneak attacks” to bite people. The organization added that the insect has “a remarkable ability to adapt.”
A spokeswoman for the WHO said that the Director General Margaret Chan will travel to Brazil to meet with the health minister and evaluate the measures taken to fight the virus. Chan, in WHO’s strategy paper, said, “Possible links with neurological complications and birth malformations have rapidly changed the risk profile for Zika from a mild threat to one of very serious proportions.”
Public health expert, Lawrence Gostin, who also serves as a professor at Georgetown University, said that the WHO had “grossly underestimated” the matter, warning that the virus could likely spread to regions from the Americas, as reported by Reuters. He said that countries affected by the Zika virus could suffer as much as 10 percent loss in their GDP; the same, he said, was likely to happen in Brazil.
Comparing the Zika outbreak to Ebola, which had killed as many as 11,300 people in two years, Gostin said that WHO did not learn the “fundamental lesson” from it.
“The WHO put out financing estimates during Ebola, which were also far from adequate, and it repeatedly raised (them) as the epidemic unfolded. It is doing the same thing now with Zika,” he said.
According to BBC, there have been 460 confirmed cases of microcelaphy in Brazil, with another 3,850 suspected cases sill under investigation.