September 19, 2018

On the 11 and 12 of September, scientists from leading research organizations across the world met for the ZikaPLAN Consortium meeting at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the UK.

The meeting marked the half-way point in the ZikaPLAN project and was the opportunity for the participating scientists, from diverse disciplines, to share the results of their efforts to tackle key knowledge gaps in the recent Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak and build response capacity for future epidemics.

In the aftermath of the Zika epidemic new public health challenges are emerging. Thousands of children are now living with severe neurological impairment, development delays and disabilities. The long-term impact on families and health systems will be felt for decades to come.

The risk factors for a future epidemic persist and ZikaPLAN’s mathematical modelling working group has shown that a major Zika outbreak is likely to strike again within the next 10 years. As much as 99% of the population of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo would be susceptible to a future outbreak and, with global warming, the Aedes mosquito that carries the Zika virus is moving north, into the United States.

To face the threat, ZikaPLAN has adopted a multi-disciplinary approach and is working to understand the disease and to develop the tools to prevent the same catastrophe from happening again.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Prof. Annelies Wilder-Smith, ZikaPLAN’s scientific coordinator, stated: “We have a moral obligation to make sure tools that need to be developed are developed, so that the next outbreak has less impact.”

In addition to progress reports from the 15 ZikaPLAN working groups, the meeting featured break-out sessions that brought together cross-disciplinary teams of scientists to address key areas of collaboration, including:

  • Clinical cohorts and networks
  • Diagnostic evaluations
  • Disease Burden, Risk Assessment and Modelling
  • Social Science, community engagement and vector control.

The openness and collaboration between ZikaPLAN, the two other consortia receiving EU grants, ZIKAlliance and ZIKAction, and the broader Zika community was highlighted. It is ground-breaking from a research perspective and has created a very different research setting to address this major public health threat.