February 17, 2016


WASHINGTON (Feb. 17, 2016) — The World Health Organization posted its “ZIKA Strategic Response Framework & Joint Operations Plan” on Feb. 16. Its purpose, WHO states, is “to guide the international response to the spread of Zika virus infection and the neonatal malformations and neurological conditions associated with it.”

Global health law expert Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, is pleased to see the WHO plan but says the financing needed to stem the Zika epidemic is grossly underestimated.

“WHO’s Zika strategic response framework is a critically important step toward an effective response to the microcephaly/Zika epidemic threatening the life and health of young women and children in the Americas. It is also a critical step toward reestablishing WHO’s global health credibility which was significantly undermined during Ebola. WHO headquarters has recognized the vital role that Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) plays in leading the response in the Americas, and the majority of funding is appropriately earmarked for PAHO.

“I am pleased that WHO has said that it must raise the funds needed for the global response. However, its estimate of $56 million is far less than is required to stem the Zika epidemic in the Americas. The urgent need for aggressive mosquito control, surveillance, and research will require major global funding. The WHO put out financing estimates during Ebola, which were also far from adequate, and it repeatedly raised as the epidemic unfolded. It is doing the same thing now with Zika.

“What is most important is that WHO and its member states have not learned the fundamental lesson of Ebola. That lesson is that mobilizing funding in the midst of a global emergency will always be too little, too late. Instead, WHO must have a much larger emergency contingency fund that is triggered by a declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). The Zika virus is likely to spread to many regions of the world, which will require considerably greater funding. Global financing for outbreaks with pandemic potential must be far greater. The Global Health Risk Framework Commission (on which I served) estimated that it would cost $4.5 billion annually to truly reduce pandemic risks. This may sound like a great deal of money, but it pales in comparison with the global costs of a pandemic. From past experience, states with major emerging disease outbreaks suffer up to a 10 percent loss in GDP. That is likely to happen in Brazil, particularly with the Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics looming.

“WHO and the international community must take global health emergencies much more seriously to make the world safer.”

Gostin is University Professor at Georgetown University and directs the WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights.

To arrange an interview with Gostin, please contact Karen Teber at karen.teber@gmail.com.

Click here for a list of Georgetown subject matter experts who can provide comment and context on Zika in the areas of infectious disease (clinical and molecular biology), biology, environmental history, global health, maternal health and neurology (Guillain-Barre syndrome and microcephaly).

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University is the premier center for health law, scholarship, and policy. Its mission is to contribute to a more powerful and deeper understanding of the multiple ways in which law can be used to improve the public’s health, using objective evidence as a measure. The O’Neill Institute seeks to advance scholarship, science, research, and teaching that will encourage key decision-makers in the public, private, and civil society to employ the law as a positive tool for enabling more people in the United States and throughout the world to lead healthier lives.