ZikaPLAN: 25 Research Organizations Unite to Fight Zika Virus and Build Long-term Outbreak Response Capacity in Latin America

ZikaPLAN: 25 Research Organizations Unite to Fight Zika Virus and Build Long-term Outbreak Response Capacity in Latin America
RECIFE, Brazil, October 25, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — 25 leading research and public health organizations from Latin America, North America, Africa, Asia, and Europe gathered in Recife for the launch of ZikaPLAN (Zika Preparedness Latin American Network). This global initiative, created in response to a Horizon 2020 funding call by the European Commission’s Directorate-General Research and Innovation, has been formed to address the Zika virus outbreak and the many research and public health challenges it poses. The initiative takes a comprehensive approach to tackle the Zika threat by:
:: addressing the knowledge gaps and needs in the current Zika outbreak to better understand the disease, prevent its spread and educate the affected populations,
:: building a sustainable response capacity in Latin America for Zika and other emerging infectious diseases (EID).

The impact of the Zika outbreak took scientists and public health authorities by surprise and hit the most vulnerable populations the hardest. The severity of the outbreak and mutation of the virus have generated numerous research questions. To take effective measures, health authorities need to know the severity of the disease and its impact on public health, what interventions will work to prevent and stop its spread, and how best to manage and treat those who have been infected. This unprecedented Zika outbreak has also highlighted the need to build local capacities: in some of the regions where the virus struck there was not the necessary research infrastructure to understand the threat and take action quickly.

To bridge these gaps, research organizations in the ZikaPLAN consortium will look at Zika’s connection with congenital syndromes and neurological complications, and the pathogenesis of severe cases, through a series of clinical studies. They will explore non-vector and vector transmission and risk factors for geographic spread, measure the burden of disease and investigate how the virus has evolved, comparing current and historic strains. ZikaPLAN will look at novel personal preventive measures, innovation in diagnostics and modelling of vector control and vaccine strategies to inform policy decisions. The social sciences will also play a role in ZikaPLAN, which aims to determine the best communication strategies to keep the affected communities informed.

ZikaPLAN will work closely with two other European Union-funded consortia, ZIKAction and ZikAlliance, to establish a Latin American and Caribbean network. This network will address the broader issue of building local capacity in Latin America to prepare for and rapidly launch a large-scale research response to emerging infectious disease threats. ZikaPLAN will contribute to developing an inter-epidemic research plan, policy recommendations, training, research networks and dissemination strategies that are designed to permanently strengthen local capacities, beyond the four years of the project. The three consortia will set up common bodies for the global management of scientific programs, communication, and ethical, regulatory and legal issues.

ZikaPLAN is receiving a €11.5 million grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, under grant agreement number 734584.