TEPIC, Mexico, April 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The
ripple effects of the Zika virus are hitting the poor hard in
Latin America and the Caribbean, and could knock back
development unless states involve communities in a stronger push
to tackle the disease, a U.N.-led study said on Thursday.
The mosquito-borne Zika virus will cost the region between
$7 billion and $18 billion from 2015 to 2017, said the report by
the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Large economies like Brazil will shoulder the biggest share
of the cost, but poorer countries such as Belize and Haiti will
suffer the severest impacts, it added.
Jessica Faieta, UNDP director for the region, said the virus
– linked to birth defects in some cases where it infects
pregnant women – is not only causing direct economic losses and
putting health systems under stress.
“The long-term consequences of the Zika virus can undermine
decades of social development, hard-earned health gains and slow
progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals,” she said in
Focusing on Brazil, Colombia and Suriname, the report
calculated that the economic impact of the virus was five times
higher for the Caribbean than South America, and could cost the
Caribbean as much as $9 billion in lost revenues over the
three-year period as tourists stay away.
Labelling Zika a “disease of poverty”, the study said
support was not reaching the region’s most vulnerable who often
lack access to health and social services.
Countries are struggling to coordinate and finance
programmes to control, monitor and diagnose the virus, it added.
Walter Cotte, IFRC’s director for the Americas, said funds
should be used to involve communities in responding to the
disease, so as to build their resilience and reduce stigma.
Carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also hosts
dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever, Zika has spread to more
than 60 countries and territories since the outbreak was
identified in 2015 in Brazil.
Here the alarm was raised over Zika's ability to cause
microcephaly - a birth defect marked by small head size and
underdeveloped brains - and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare
Spending more on tackling Zika now would have long-term
benefits and curb the spread of other diseases carried by the
same mosquito, said the report.
With women on the fringes of fast-growing cities among those
most at risk, it called for states to step up help for poor
communities where many lack access to sanitation, healthcare and
“While a swift and timely emergency response is a necessary
step in controlling the Zika epidemic, there is a growing need
to address the quieter effects of the outbreak – the social
impacts, economic loss and hardship – which are exacerbated by
pre-existing inequities,” the report said.
Families looking after children born with related birth
defects will need greater assistance, partly to help with
long-term care, which could cost up to $5 billion in lost income
as parents stay out of the work force, said the report.
It estimated the cost of microcephaly to be $8 billion,
largely because people born with the disorder are unlikely to be
able to work, while costs linked to Guillain-Barré could reach
The World Health Organisation projected some 3 to 4 million
people would be infected with Zika in Latin America by early
2017, saying in February the region was recording lower numbers
of infections than last year, but countries must stay vigilant.
(Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Megan Rowling. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.