Global scientific community to share data on Zika virus

London, Feb 11 (IANS) Leading global health bodies, including India’s Department of Biotechnology under the Ministry of Science and Technology, have committed to share data on the current Zika virus outbreak and future public health emergencies as rapidly and openly as possible, the global charitable organisation Wellcome Trust has said.

A joint declaration has been signed by organisations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the US National Institute of Health, the Britain-based Wellcome Trust said in a statement on Thursday.

It is believed that soon, other such bodies will come on board to strengthen the battle against the Zika outbreak, it added.

“Research is an essential part of the response to any global health emergency. This is particularly true for Zika, where so much is still unknown about the virus, how it is spread and the possible link with microcephaly,” said Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the trust and a signatory to the declaration.

“It’s critical that as results become available they are shared rapidly in a way that is equitable, ethical and transparent. This will ensure that the knowledge gained is turned quickly into health interventions that can have an impact on the epidemic,” Dr Farrar added.

The joint declaration seeks to make “all content concerning the Zika virus free to access”.

“Funder signatories will require researchers undertaking work relevant to public health emergencies to set in place mechanisms to share quality-assured interim and final data as rapidly and widely as possible, including with public health and research communities and the World Health Organisation,” it said.

The Zika virus, native to parts of Africa and Asia, has for the first time been introduced into the Americas where it is spreading locally among people who have not travelled abroad.

There is currently no vaccine against the virus or antiviral treatment.

Zika is generally a mild illness, spread by a day-biting mosquito. However, there is a worrisome, but as of yet unproven, association of infected mothers in Brazil giving birth to babies with small heads and underdeveloped brains, said a research letter published in leading British medical journal The Lancet.

There has been a 20-fold increase in the number of babies born with this condition, known as microcephaly, since Zika first appeared in Brazil in May 2015, researchers said.

More than 22 countries in the Americas have reported the sporadic Zika virus infections, indicating its rapid geographic expansion.

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