Zika confirmed in Africa, outbreak spreading: WHO

A member of the National Health Foundation fumigates against the Aedes aegypti mosquito in Gama, 45km south of Brasilia, on Feb 17, 2016.
A member of the National Health Foundation fumigates against the Aedes aegypti mosquito in Gama, 45km south of Brasilia, on Feb 17, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

First proof of virus circulating in Africa but no move to recommend strict travel curbs yet

GENEVA/WASHINGTON • The Zika virus blamed for neurological disorders and birth abnormalities in Brazil has been confirmed to be circulating in Africa for the first time after being sequenced from a sample from Cape Verde, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

"The findings are of concern because it is further proof that the outbreak is spreading beyond South America and is on the doorstep of Africa," said the WHO's Africa director, Ms Matshidiso Moeti, yesterday.

"This information will help African countries to re-evaluate their level of risk and adapt and increase their levels of preparedness."

She said she would not recommend strict travel restrictions to try to stop the spread of the disease.

Meanwhile, a fight over addressing the spreading Zika virus intensified in the US Congress on Thursday as the Senate approved US$1.1 billion (S$1.5 billion) in emergency money one day after the House of Representatives voted for US$622.1 million financed through cuts to existing programmes.

The two chambers would have to reach an agreement on a spending level before they can send it to President Barack Obama, who in February requested US$1.9 billion.

The White House has called the House measure "woefully inadequate" and has threatened to veto it. Democratic senator Patty Murray of Washington state urged Congress to act quickly, saying: "This is a public health emergency and Congress should treat it like one."

The Senate will enter negotiations with the House with a strong hand: a bipartisan 68-30 vote in favour of the emergency funds to battle Zika. However, conservative group Heritage Action is lobbying against any Zika funding Bill that is not paid for with an equal amount of spending cuts.

Conservative Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah tried unsuccessfully to kill the Senate funding, saying the Obama administration already had enough money to deal with Zika. "What we should not do, however, is allow the Zika virus to be yet another excuse to run up the national debt," Mr Lee said.

But senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican, countered that US debt problems were rooted in the rapid growth in the cost of huge programmes such as Social Security and Medicare and not so-called "discretionary" spending like that on Zika.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'Zika confirmed in Africa, outbreak spreading: WHO'. Print Edition | Subscribe