At this point, it's pretty clear that Zika is not going away. The virus is spreading panic across Latin America, and continues to cross international borders at an alarmingly rapid pace.
A few funders are jumping into combat the spread of the vector borne illness. But it’s a surprisingly small number, especially when you consider the WHOs warning that Zika is expected to “spread across nearly all of the Americas” and calls it a “pandemic in progress.” No one wants to bear witness to another outbreak. Especially in developing countries where transmission rates are high and resources are low. One funder helping to ensure that doesn’t happen is the Wellcome Trust.
Wellcome Trust, along with the Medical Research Council and the Newton Fund, recently put up a collective £3.2 million to support the Zika Rapid Response Initiative. So far, that money has funded 26 Zika projects around the world. The initiative was lunched by the Medical Research Council earlier this year and focuses on “the nature of the virus, its transmission and the potential links to neurological conditions including microcephaly.”
Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust explains the initiative further,
This research effort will begin to answer urgent questions about Zika, including establishing the links with microcephaly and Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and will kick-start the development of better diagnostic tools and vaccines to protect those most at risk from infection.
Dr. Farrar touched on another matter—how Zika has taken the world by surprise, going from a “relatively obscure tropical disease to a global health emergency.” Indeed, it does seem like the world was blindsided by Zika. While movement is a bit slow here, there are funders joining the fight to halt the spread of the virus.
Paul Allen has made good on the $100 million commitment he made last year to fight the spread of highly contagious diseases by giving $1.5 million to the American Red Cross toward the support of vector control activities in high-burden areas in Latin America. A portion of that grant money is also funding health, sanitation, and hygiene projects in an effort to prevent the spread of the illness. Allen also awarded $550,000 to Chembio Diagnostic Systems toward the support of the company’s rapid diagnostic tests.
Google.org isn’t sitting on its hands either, giving UNICEF a $1 million grant to raise awareness, reduce the populations of mosquitoes that transmit the virus, and support the development of diagnostics and vaccines to prevent disease transmission. Google has also launched a massive Zika mapping campaign to determine where the virus will spread next.
Despite the efforts of Wellcome, Google, and Allen, major funders remain a bit slow on the uptake, here. Which is curious, because you would think that a virus with “explosive pandemic potential” would sound off more alarm bells than it has thus far.