Informing a rapid response to Brazil’s Zika outbreak

Mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika virus are on the rise. In 2016 a Zika outbreak in Brazil spread to North and South America and the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, as evidence grew that Zika can cause birth defects as well as neurological problems.

A Newton funded research collaboration between experts from Fundação Oswaldo Cruz Recife (Fiocruz) and the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research played a major role in Brazil’s response to the Zika epidemic. The first in the world to focus on Zika virus epidemiology, the project informed policy and resulted in basic understanding of the virus, paving the way for more advanced research to take place.

The research team was among the first to push for recognition of the link between Zika and microcephaly in babies and researchers trained staff at the Ministry of Health to use a new diagnostic method. Fiocruz’s diagnostics labs offered specialised high-quality services to an underprepared Brazilian public health system at the surge of the epidemic.

The project had a significant impact on Glasgow University’s capacity to undertake Zika research, due to the availability of the virus, and both institutions have since set up new partnerships and received additional funding to investigate the previously neglected disease.

Zika is often referred to as a ‘disease of poverty’, as it thrives in densely populated areas with under-resourced public health infrastructure and poor sanitation. In the short-term, the research helped affected individuals – particularly poorer ones, with limited access to healthcare services – receive low-cost and rapid diagnostics. The findings from this project have enabled other research projects – including one looking into the creation of a vaccine – so the research could have a long-term impact at a global level.

Project title: The emergence of Zika virus in Brazil: investigating viral features and host responses to design preventive strategies

Project leads: Rafael França (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz – Recife), Alain Kohl (University of Glasgow)

Delivery partnersMRCCONFAPFACEPE

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