Strengthening the health sector with investment is the only way governments can respond to emerging diseases such as the Zika virus currently ravaging South America.
Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrar, who visited Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust in Blantyre on Monday, said this when asked how countries such as Malawi could respond to hair-raising emerging diseases.
He said: “There are a number of emerging infections we have been with ever since the horror of Ebola in West Africa and, of course, the scare of the moment Zika virus in America.
“But we must remain in context. The biggest threats to public health in Malawi today are tuberculosis, HIV, diabetes, non-communicable diseases, obesity and high blood pressure, among others. These require the health system to address and if you have a strong health system that can deal with all these issues, then if something arises you would have the capacity to respond to it.” The World Health Organisation (WHO) says Zika virus is an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys through a monitoring network of forest yellow fever.
In 1952, it was identified in humans in Uganda and Tanzania, and so far there have been outbreaks in the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says outbreaks are currently occurring in a number of countries and that it will be difficult to determine how and where the virus will spread over time.
Farrar said Malawi just needs a strong health system that can shield it from such emerging diseases.
Last month, Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said although chances of the virus spreading to Malawi are slim, the country was alert in case of an outbreak.
He said: “The risk that the virus could spread to Malawi and the region are still very slim, but we are on the lookout just in case. Those who are pregnant or intend to become pregnant shortly are strongly advised not to go to the region infested with the virus.”