US experts to visit Brazil to work on Zika vaccine

US experts will visit Brazil next week to start developing vaccine for Zika virus

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Brazil's Health Minister Marcelo Castro (C) speaks to the media alongside Uruguay's Health Minister Jorge Basso (L) and Argentina's Health Minister Jorge Daniel Lemus during a joint news conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, February 3, 2016

US experts will travel to Brazil next week to start work on the development of a vaccine against the mosquito-borne Zika virus, Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro said on Wednesday.

Castro was speaking before a meeting with health ministers from across South America to discuss the public health emergency and how the region can coordinate its fight against the virus.

Zika has been linked to a birth defect known as microcephaly - in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains - and is spreading rapidly in the Americas. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared an emergency.

"On February 11, US technical experts will arrive in Brazil to hold a high level meeting where they will determine the first steps and timetable for developing this vaccine," Castro said at the headquarters of the regional Mercosur bloc in Uruguay's capital, Montevideo.

There is currently no cure or vaccine for Zika.

Brazil is the country hardest hit by the virus. President Dilma Rousseff said on Tuesday Brazil and the United States would work together on developing a Zika vaccine.

Producing a safe vaccine is however strewn with hurdles and full regulatory approval could take years.

"Until [a vaccine] is developed, we only have one option: to eliminate the mosquito and the best way to do that is to prevent the mosquito from being born, by destroying the breeding sites," said Castro.

South American countries from Argentina to Ecuador have conducted high-profile fumigation campaigns in their battle against the Aedis aegypti mosquito that carries the virus.

The Pan American Health Organization's (PAHO) director, Carissa Etienne, said fumigation had limited effectiveness as a means to wipe out the mosquitoes. It kills adults but not larvae, she said.

Speaking in Montevideo, Etienne said the body would need $8.5 million to help countries tackle the health emergency. She added that governments in the region had made progress in recent years tackling the mosquito, which also carries the dengue and Chikungunya viruses.

Brazil's Castro went into the meeting urging more cross-border cooperation.

"We need to exchange information, make alliances and discuss what coordinated action we can take to control this epidemic," said Brazil's top health official, Castro.

The WHO has said as many as 4 million people in the Americas may become infected by Zika.

TRTWorld, Reuters