World Bank Takes on Zika Virus

February 19, 2016Global Challengesby EW News Desk Team

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The recent Zika virus outbreak has done more than terrify millions of people around the world; it has had an effect on global economies. Some countries have had to divert meager means to try to combat the outbreak. Others have lost significant amounts to declining tourism rates as visitors fear venturing to nations hardest hit by the outbreak. 

Hit particularly hard were nations in the Caribbean and Latin America. To support these nations and help them overcome the outbreak, the World Bank Group announced Thursday that it would provide $150 million US. This amount was determined by calculating current country demands for financing and it is based on both requests by the affected nations and independent research. If additional funding is needed, the World Bank has vowed to provide such additional support, according to a statement it released.

The World Bank accompanied its announcement with an initial projection of the short-term economic impact of the Zika virus. While the impact is significant, the projection determined it should be relatively modest, at around $3.5 billion (just 0.06 percent of the total gross domestic product (GDP) for the region). The World Bank cautioned that this projection was based on assumptions of a swift and well-coordinated response by the international community to the Zika virus.

It also assumed that the most significant health consequences of the Zika virus only pertain to pregnant women thanks to the World Health Organization’s report that noted the link between Zika virus infection while pregnant and the development of microcephaly in the resulting newborn.

Despite the World Bank's predictions, some analysts fear it may be overly optimistic. Some nations could be more adversely affected by the virus than others could, losing more than an entire percentage point of GDP. These countries are more likely to require additional support from the World Bank and the international community. These less optimistic analysts feel much more research is needed about public perceptions of Zika virus, the virus's effects and potential for mutation, and suggest economic impacts of the virus will need to be reassessed as a result. 

Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group said in its statement: “Our analysis underscores the importance of urgent action to halt the spread of the Zika virus and to protect the health and well-being of people in the affected countries ... The World Bank Group stands ready to support the countries affected by this health crisis and to provide additional support if needed.”

The financing the World Bank Group provides will support a range of activities, including monitoring and controlling infection vectors, identifying at-risk groups, ensuring and monitoring the results of follow-up care for victims, promoting public awareness programs, and other activities to combat the virus. 

“Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have made it a priority to respond to the Zika virus emergency,” noted Jorge Familiar Calderon, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean. “I’ve seen firsthand how communities across the region are working together to successfully protect the population from the Zika virus. We stand ready to continue supporting their efforts through technical advice, knowledge sharing and financing.”